Christmas in Iqaluit – The first few days

The cold took my breath away.
Two steps onto the tarmac and I was frozen.
It had been pretty chilly in Ottawa in the morning, branches covered in a frosty coating, the river steaming.
But here in Iqaluit, on the edge of Frobisher Bay, the edge of the Arctic Circle, it’s a different kind of cold.
It’s the kind where you put a boiling pot of water out onto the back porch to cool for making baby formula with, and you have to wear oven mitts to protect your hands from the frozen metal handle when you pick it up again just minutes later.
It’s the little things that tell me I’m not in Ottawa anymore. Like my nieces waving “See ya later!” as they clomp outside to wait for the school bus, on their own. “Where are they gonna go?” their mom asks me calmly. “Besides, the speed limit’s 30km – and that’s mostly on the straight, paved stretches.”
Or it’s throwing everything in the garbage – there’s no recycling here, let alone composting (not that the permafrost allows for vegetable gardens, anyway).
Or the way none of the dishes, or cutlery, or linens match – form always follows function here. And then there’s the shipping costs to think of.
The smell of exhaust greets you outside, since everyone warms the car up for fifteen minutes before leaving the house. A remote starter’s more a necessity than a luxury when it’s 40C below for months on end.
The winter solstice is in two days, after which the days will get visibly longer every single day. The moment the sky begins to lighten in the morning is like the release of a pent-up breath, a sigh of relief. The moon rises higher than the sun does. But there is light, more than I expected. But evening strikes quickly – it is nighttime dark by 3pm.
Windows are crucial. Beyond the short stretch of city lights, there is nothing but view.
Great rolling hills of snow, undulating and barely distinguishable from sea or sky.
A couple of days in, and I’m getting used to the cold. Hats and mitts go on before turning the door handle. Snowpants are a fashion statement. Snow squeaks underfoot, and tires rumble and shush.
Inside is warmth, and family, and cooking. Outside is logistics of getting to the next inside.
The sky through the window this morning is every shade of white.
This is Christmas in Iqaluit.


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