Hygge is part of the Danish way of life. It’s untranslatable. The closest you get is “cosy.” It’s a big trend at the moment, so big that apparently in the UK people are trying to use it to promote soup. Parents of a colleague of mine run a Danish restaurant in London. They were approached by a man wanting to write a book on Danish hygge. He’d never even been to Denmark! That would be like writing a book on French culture based on ‘Allo ‘Allo.
Hygge is a very real thing, so I wanted to share some real Danish insights. Especially now the long nights have drawn in. We can arrive at work while it’s still a dark morning and leave in the dark afternoon. That’s if you’re doing a standard Danish 8 till 4.
But I love the long winter darkness. Partly in winter we have December. In Denmark December is just one long hygge-packed month. Everyone’s candle budget increases in December.
The problem with trying to define hygge is that it’s like trying to hold water in your enclosed fist. Or explain why music can make you feel a certain way. It’s intangible. It’s so intrinsically part of our culture that if you haven’t been exposed to it it’s almost impossible to replicate. What you’re looking for is a feeling. So at the end you describe something as having been “hyggeligt.”
Hygge is about doing something – mainly with others – that leaves a feeling of cosiness, contentment, happiness, peacefulness. It’s why Danes have the highest consumption of candles. Candles are a huge part of hygge. So is food. I introduced my ex-husband to hygge when I lit candles and served hot chocolate with whipped cream on a dark and miserable wet afternoon. This was in Wales, so you can get those even in July.
Last weekend my oldest friend, my son and I had planned a movie night. We ordered pizza, spread out the candy, soda (for him) and Hawaiian coffee (for us). Then we curled up on the sofa with blankets, turned the lights out and lit some candles. That was “hyggeligt.” (We were watching IT, just prove you can find hygge in anything. Even in creepy clowns.)
When my son and I spend a Sunday afternoon baking cookies together and then having a board game marathon (obviously where we eat the cookies) that is hygge.
Summer barbecues in the garden with my parents are hygge. (Hygge is not just a winter phenomenon.)
Having old friends over for dinner is hygge.
Going to a Christmas market and playing 50s style bingo with a bunch of strangers is “hyggeligt.”
But spending the evening alone, curled up with a great book, a latte and some chocolate (and some candles) is also hygge.
It’s the feeling you’re trying to achieve. There’s a reason why we are supposed to be the happiest people on earth. Hygge has a lot to do with it.
It’s about making time. Making time for you and your loved ones and do something together. Not just sitting around staring at your phones. That’s not hygge.
So don’t rush out to an expensive Scandinavian store and change your whole decor just to be part of this lifestyle trend. You don’t need pillows with elks on them or cashmere throws. Just go to IKEA for some candles and maybe pick up something edible with cinnamon.
(Never ever buy anything called a “Danish pastry” abroad if you’re trying to experience our culture. Unless it’s from a bakery run by an actual Dane who knows what it’s really about. Sorry, pet peeve of mine. Whenever I hear anyone talking about “cheese Danish” I go a little nuts. We would never put cheese in our pastries.)
So go and get some hygge in your lives. Another wonderful thing about hygge is that it slows down time. So you forget for a moment that you have deadlines to meet or the most boring meeting to sit through come Monday morning. There’s just that moment and nothing more.
Keep the candles burning.