May 31, 2018 • Sarah Jean Gosney
Let’s talk about hygge. Hygge, pronounced “hooga,” is a Danish word that can be translated as “the art of creating intimacy,” or “coziness of the soul.” In The Little Book of Hygge, where I’m drawing my inspiration today, author Meik Wiking also cites other definitions, like “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” and “cocoa by candlelight.” But however you define hygge, the Danes are obsessed with it. Hygge makes homemaking transcendent.
What are the key components of hygge?
1. Light: All types of lighting are important for hygge, but to Danes, candles are the ultimate hygge. They usually light multiple candles (always unscented!) at once, and in any room of the house. You could make your bathroom very hyggelig (hygge-like) by lighting a few candles.
Outside of candles, Danes obsess over lighting. They have lamp makers as famous in their county as American football stars. They recoil at florescent light, and, when they can’t get candles, they go for diffuse light from multiple sources. In terms of how much they care about lighting, every Dane may as well be a professional photographer. And rightly so. Good lighting instantly sets the mood in a room, and a pocket of light can create a cozy nook in what was once a wide, open room.
2. Togetherness: While you can have a hyggelig time all by yourself, the most hygge moments are with a small group of people. Hygge has been referred to as socializing for introverts, as groups of 3-5 are preferred. To create hygge means to create an egalitarian environment: think everyone cooking together in the kitchen, or a potluck meal. Hygge doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but sharing the experience always makes it more hyggelig.
In his book, Wiking describes an afternoon when he and his friends spend hours making sausages. After hours of chopping, stuffing, and frying, they finally sat down to eat around 10 o’clock at night.
It was a total bust. Wiking said “the first taste sensation I got was mold.” Many of us would consider the evening a failure, but Wiking explains that it was total hygge. Just because the result was less than appetizing, that didn’t erase the hours of hygge that preceded its consumption.
3. Food and drink: When asked what they associate most with hygge, most Danes answered hot drinks (candles were a close second). Coffee is so valued in Denmark that it has its own hygge: kaffehygge (and take it from me, their coffee is GOOD).
Apart from coffee, confections, and pastries, rich rustic dishes are very hyggelig. Wiking calls it “Slow Food’s Chubby Cousin.” Think a beef stew made with bacon & red wine, cooked for hours. The longer the recipe takes to cook, the longer you have to curl up with a book and a glass of wine, the more hygge. Meat–also highly hyggelig.
Danes also love sweets more than any most Europeans (the Finns just barely have them beat). Danes consume on average 18lbs of sweets per year compared to the European average of 9lbs.
But hygge is not about gluttony. It’s about simple indulgences. Even hygge comes with a warning to not overdo it; the author himself says it’s not very hyggelig to have a stomach ache. A theme I noticed throughout the book is that quality is always emphasized. Eating a box of Twinkies is probably not very hyggelig (although if shared by the fire with friends, we could talk…), but a few pieces of Belgian chocolate, a slice of homemade pie, or a piece of cake from your favorite bakery has high levels of hygge.
4. Clothing: Hygge clothing is…well…what I would call frumpy. Scarves are the height of hygge, and muted colors, chunky (but not sloppy) sweaters, understated pants, professorial jackets, and buns are hyggelig as well. And don’t forget the wool socks! Comfort and casual are king when it comes to hygge. A three piece suit will be hard to spot in Copenhagen.
5. Home: Home is where the hygge is. Most Danes associate their own home with hygge, and that is partially thanks to all those candles they’re burning.
But what else makes a home hygge?
A very hyggelig room would look like: gentle lights from several corners of the room. Furniture is made of wood and leather. Candles are burning on the mantle even though the fireplace is lit, and there are several burning on a packed bookshelf.
There is a sheepskin rug draped over a big comfy armchair, along with several pillows. This has become the hyggekrog. There might be antlers on the wall from a favorite hunt, and a ceramic tea kettle has hot tea waiting for you to pour another cup.
A hygge home invites you to sit down and stay awhile. Get comfy. Pick up that old book you’ve been meaning to finish, and have some tea.
6. Christmas: Christmas is the time of year most associated with hygge. Again, it has its own word: julehygge. Julehygge is associated with different food traditions, like roast duck, & decorations like woven paper hearts. And it wouldn’t be julehygge (Christmas hygge) without the Advent candle. This candle is burned every day until Christmas and is the ultimate hygge. Christmas is the time of year when Danes spend their days submerged in darkness, so they lean heavy on the candles, rich food, and traditions.
7. Summer hygge: Even though Christmas is the height of hygge, you can hygge all year round! Think going to the farmer’s market, picking your own fruit to make homemade jam, or going camping with the family. The classic American BBQ is totally hygge: good friends, good times, and lots of meat! Growing your own garden is another way to get instant hygge.
Even though they coined the term, hygge is not just for Danes. Hygge can be incorporated into any home to make it more cozy and inviting. I’m guessing that all of you have a good sense of how hygge feels even if you’d never heard the word. To me, hygge is rustic. It means friends, family, tradition, indulgence, laughter, peace, and comfort.
Now isn’t that something we can all get behind?
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