When the darkness begins and the snowy cold settles onto the landscape and the world seems almost silent . . . That’s when you begin to get a sense of it.
Walking down the narrow streets with wooly scarves bundled high around your neck, you have to pull it down just to be able to see. Once your eyes have adjusted to the light, you make your way up to the little porch which is lit by candle lanterns and dusted with soft, powdery snow.
You’re led inside where a few people bask in front of the fire. Comfortable on throws, their hands are wrapped around steaming mugs. They laugh together at the end of a story and turn to face you just as you walk in. Even though you don’t really know anyone — they make you feel like you do.
That’s when you suddenly understand the essence of HYGGE.
Language offers a unique glimpse into a culture’s value and character. The word SERENDIPITY is nearly impossible to translate from English, but it perfectly expresses the surprise and wonder of the happy incident. Oh how we cherish serendipitous events in our culture!
Similarly, the Danish word Hygge (pronounced Hew-gah) roughly translates to mean something along the lines of warm cosiness. In Norwegian, it means ‘well-being’. But, hygge describes much more than these things. In fact, it pretty much encapsulates Scandinavian tradition.
“We have very long, dark and cold winters in Norway” says Rita, a nurse from Oslo.
“Our culture had to find ways of surviving these extreme conditions, and I don’t mean basic survival. . . I mean getting through the long, dark winters without sinking into terrible depression. This, I think, is why we have hygge.”
Hygge embraces everything from conviviality to cosiness — good conversation in the glow of a flickering candle-light, the comforting smell of buttery bread intermingled with the smoke from the fireplace.
Hygge is all of this, but more so, it is the tradition of bringing people together to enjoy life. Hygge is magically transforming a potentially bleak situation into one of intimacy, fellowship and joy.
“It’s very much about the emotion,” Rita explains. “We do things to care for ourselves and for each other – and not just in wintertime.”
But, of course, the colder months and the holidays lend themselves to hygge.
“Just invite people over and don’t worry about tidying up or making the table perfect. You want to make people comfortable, and that means you being comfortable too. You can’t really rush about and expect hygge.”
So what’s the secret?
Rita says that you can embrace hygge by keeping things simple; just add more soft lighting, candles, pillows, warm and easy-to-make foods that will add to a soothing, relaxed atmosphere. It’s celebrating togetherness the easy way. Enjoy yourself, listen to music, laugh with your friends, bundle up in your bulkiest sweater and rest.
Maybe a single word really can sum-up the essence of a culture.
And, if the tradition of hygge can help explain why Scandinavian countries boast the happiest and most successful populations, then maybe those of us from other cultures could learn a little from this enduring and heart-warming way of life.