It’s a question we get a lot when people hear we live in Alaska. “Wow! How do you handle the darkness every winter?” It’s a good question, but there’s a lot of misinformation about the darkness and winter solstice in Alaska. The light pattern varies greatly depending on where you live in Alaska. But no matter where you live in Alaska, the coming winter solstice is to be celebrated.
Not All of Alaska has 24/7 Darkness
We live in the Anchorage area of Alaska. This is the biggest civilization pocket in Alaska, even though it is small in comparison with many cities within the lower 48 states. In this area, on our darkest day we have just over 5 hours between sunrise and sunset. This means that we do not ever experience 24/7 darkness, nor do we experience 24/7 light in the summer.
What Winter Solstice Means for Alaskans
Before we moved to Alaska I never really paid much attention to winter solstice, which is the first day of winter (December 21). But living in Alaska, I pay attention! On this day, we stop losing light and instead gain light. While the first few days of winter don’t bring much change in light on a day to day basis (we only gain a few seconds a day), by the end of January we will be gaining over 5 minutes of light every single day.
Now don’t get me wrong, the darkness can still be intense. Even though we don’t have complete darkness, the sun is always very low in the sky. For some people in our area, their houses never see sun because the sun can’t get over the mountains that their particular house is shadowed by. For others, the sun will set behind a tall peak, before coming out again for a little bit longer over a smaller mountain. Everyone has a slightly different experience based on where their house is situated.
But no matter the house, it is significantly darker in this area of Alaska than in any place in the contiguous US. Furthermore, if you go just a few hours further north to Fairbanks, they only have about 3.5 hours between sunrise and sunset. Go even further north to Utqiagvik, and you will find 24/7 darkness from mid November to mid January.
The Shift From Dark to Light
Winter solstice is the shift from dark to light. For some, winter is very hard for them with the lack of light. For me, I love the soft winter light. Because we don’t have much light, I am always awake for the beautiful sunrise and sunset. Living in winter is like living each day in 4 hours of golden hour – a photographer’s dream. But that said, I’m grateful it’s not like this all year long. I love Alaska winter, I truly do. But I am grateful for the summer reprieve.
The Land of Extremes
Alaska is a land of extremes. It’s not normal. It’s a different culture. Different light pattern. Different environment. But it’s beautiful. It’s real. And it’s home. Winter solstice is just one of those little things that makes Alaska unique. And it’s really the uniqueness of Alaska that we are celebrating. So on December 21st, we welcome the first day of winter. And welcome back sun, slowly creeping back into our lives day by day. The clock has shifted. A new year is about to begin.