By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of hygge, the Danish word for “cozy togetherness” that’s taken the internet by storm. I am a late hygge bloomer, having just heard of it a year ago when I read The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell. As soon as I read about it, the concept ignited my curiosity, and I had to know more. What I’ve learned is that I’ve always been a big fan of hygge, even though I didn’t hear about it until my mid-thirties, can’t precisely define it, and don’t know how to pronounce it. Turns out, it’s part of what I’ve always loved about life; I’m just more intentional about it now that I’ve learned it’s actually a thing!
What is hygge?
For those of you living under a rock like I was, hygge (hoo-gah) actually has no exact English translation. It’s hard to define, but the best definition I’ve heard is “the art of cozy conviviality”. To state it as simply as possible, it always involves other people, and it always involves coziness.
When I’ve Experienced It
There are a few memories that sprang to mind when I truly learned what hygge looks like in real life. The first was the Christmas I experienced with my family growing up the year our whole house was under renovation. We had a Christmas tree, a couch, and, if I remember correctly, much of the rest of the house was covered in plastic. It doesn’t sound very cozy, but it was! We found joy and happiness in each other, which is the very essence of hygge, and also proof it costs exactly nothing. I also remember spending a lot of time growing up on my friends’ family farm. Their mother was a hygge master. She would invite an inordinate amount of my friends over for dinner, and while it was usually as simple as meat and potatoes, we gathered around the longest table I’d ever seen to eat a dinner that was always accompanied by a roaring fire and incredibly interesting conversation. Simple proof that hygge isn’t fancy, it’s simply hospitable. Finally, after my husband and I had our firstborn, we lived in a little cottage in the country. One day we got completely snowed in, and our neighbors invited us to trek through the snow to their house for dinner. That night we experienced a truly cozy soup dinner with people we loved. I remember watching those candles burn down with such peace and joy in my heart. Hygge makes you rich even when you aren’t.
Why I Love It
I think this part is obvious. Hygge fosters a sense of belonging with people you love, which I think is especially important during the winter season. Winter’s short days and long nights can easily get me down. For me, hygge is a big, bright spot in winter’s dark shadow. Yes, while it usually involves good food, hot toddies, cozy blankets, burning candles, a merry fire, soft music, and good smells (anything that enhances our sensory experience is hygge), it’s the spirit of hygge that leaves the longest-lasting impression. It’s the feeling that can only accompany living in community. It doesn’t matter how short the day or how cold the night – the inside of our homes can stay merry and bright all winter long, even long after the holidays are over.
How to Do It
Make being together a celebration. Maybe it’s just your family, maybe it’s simply the neighbor kids, or maybe it’s a group of friends – but whomever it is, make it a big deal. It doesn’t matter what you eat; we’ve enjoyed macaroni and cheese from a box around candlelight before. The only thing you have to do to achieve hygge is provide a sacred place where people can gather and talk about their lives without fear of judgement. Hygge is an excuse to stop striving and just be. Even if everyone is doing their own thing, it’s laying low and being together. It’s playing board games and reading books and finding solace and comfort in one another.
So if winter has got you down, try to make room in your life for some hygge. Just gather those you love close and maybe light a candle while you’re at it. The cozy blanket is always a good idea, but spiking the hot apple cider is optional; to each their own!