O n the snowy shore of the northern Swedish city of Luleå, bathers are lowering themselves into a rectangular hole in the frozen seawater. The sun is already disappearing, and it is barely 2pm. Soon, in a month’s time, there will be just three hours of daylight every day.
“It’s like a happiness rush afterwards,” says Katariina Yliperttula, 44, who is taking a dip before work. She hardly ever swims in the summer, but started doing so frequently in the winter a couple of years ago.
While many have their own hobbies that keep them going through the cold dark winter months here – ice swimming, cross-country skiing, walking on the “ice road” out into the archipelago – one thing remains a problem: loneliness. In an attempt to counter that, authorities in Luleå have launched a campaign to ease that social isolation, ever so slightly, by encouraging people to say hello to one another.
“It’s a really good thing that people say hi to each other. It means people who meet each other, don’t know each other, become a little happier,” says Pontus Wikström, 61, the chair of the winter bathing group Kallis Luleå.