Hygge: The Warmth of Winter

With temperatures dropping and snow forecasted (hurrah!), it’s time to seek out roaring fires, warm cocoa, and hygge. Hygge is the Danish concept of warmth and coziness; while there isn’t a direct translation, the many scenarios and situations described by Danes as “hygge” have the appeal of chicken soup or a cup of tea.

Hygge Tea Time

The word hygge is derived from a Norwegian word from “well-being;” the Danes first adopted it in the eighteenth century and have made it their own since then. This video http://www.visitdenmark.com/danish-meaning-hygge from the Danish travel bureau teaches proper pronunciation (close to “hooga” or “hyooguh”) and offers a wealth of examples. While the connection to well-being is clear, there is a specific emphasis on comfort, snugness, and leisure. A glance at Danish language and the use of “hygge”--in everything from literature to tweets--reveals many of the same topics over and over again: reading, tea, coffee, comfort food, blankets, candles, roaring fires, and close friends.

Hygge Candles on Table

The key to replicating hygge is embracing the mentality behind it. As one Danish waiter describes, hygge is emplified by “taking a bite of your childhood” in the cheeriest way possible. That means taking things slowly, indulging in the good around you, and reducing anxiety or worry in order to focus on warmth and security. A Danish commenter on NPR’s website offers a comparison between the US and Denmark that gets at the heart of this concept: “In the US, one might grab a cup of coffee to go, or sit in a cafe looking at a laptop. Hygge is a bit more ritualized. Here in DK, a cup of coffee is more likely to take a lot more time, involve conversation and a couch.” The correlation between hygge and happiness is clear: Denmark is consistently lauded as one of the happiest countries in the world, despite unusually long, cold winters and unusually short days.

Hygge next to the fireplace

During those cold, dark months, Danes have little choice but to spend the majority of their time inside. Hygge offers a chance to celebrate this time by focusing on home in a variety of ways: the interior space, the people who occupy it, and the wholesome, comforting activities that take place there. The role of ambiance in generating hygge is crucial--candles are perhaps recognized as the “most hygge” thing of all, alongside fires and small, quaint spaces. In Danish, the adjectival form of the word--hyggligt--is a common compliment to hosts and hostesses; it implies that they have not only created a lovely atmosphere but have also filled the space with good people and done their guests a great service.

Cookies & Hygge

Helen Russell, the woman who literally wrote the book on hygge, sums up the beauty of the word: “Having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul. Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself - indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything.”