I hate winter. With a passion. There are only two good things about the colder months: skiing and Christmas. Everything else revolves around trying to keep warm and wondering where the light went. And so I hibernate, retreating into my cave in late November, spending a lot more time sleeping, and only emerging, occasionally, to forage for food. This has been the only coping strategy I’ve ever had. Until now. Because this year, I discovered hygge…
That’s not a misprint. Hygge is a real word, which describes a very real concept. Originated by the Danish and embraced more recently by the rest of the world, hygge is the art of surviving winter – pleasantly, comfortably and cosily. There’s no official definition of the word (though it’s said to come from a Norwegian word meaning ‘well-being’, and may well be the origin of our English ‘hug’), but basically it’s the idea of creating a warming, soothing, comforting environment during the coldest times of the year. It’s a strategy for tackling winter that makes the cold, the dark and the depression bearable – nay, pleasurable.
Yes, I know we live in the Mediterranean with its 300-odd days of sunshine, but therein lies our problem. Neither we nor our houses are built to withstand the cold, and an early, biting winter hits hard. Birgitte Arhnung, a Larnaca-based Danish national and herself a devotee of hygge, understands perfectly…
“Hygge” – she pronounces it hyougay – “is something all Danes know about from birth. I don’t think there’s an exact word for it in other languages, it’s a purely Danish concept that’s been adopted by other countries: a lovely way to get through those long, cold dark winters. It’s minus 10 outside, it’s snowing and you say ‘let’s go home and hygge’. You disconnect from the internet, light the fireplace, make a cup of tea, put your socks on and your feet up, you chat to your friends or read a book. Basically you relax.
“Of course, in Denmark,” she adds, “the houses are very different from here; very warm inside. There’s usually a stove which warms your whole home, maybe a fireplace, and there’s central heating too – so you’re not suffering in the same way you would here in Cyprus, where everything is built for the heat of summer. Actually, I’m freezing in Cyprus!” Birgitte laughs. “You’re cold inside too, which does make it harder to hygge!”
She has however, brought elements of hygge to warm her home in Oroklini: “We have candles everywhere, warm lighting, cosy blankets…”
Filling your home with light and warmth is a very hygge way to handle winter. Personally, I’ve been overdoing it on IKEA’s sheepskin rugs this winter: thrown on the end of the bed they keep my toes toasty all night long, snuggled into one in my favourite armchair (a trick I picked up from après ski bars in Austria) I’m all set for an evening of classic films. And if you’re missing a roaring fireplace, then load up on blankets and up the illumination factor with strings of sparkling lights (loop them over mirrors for a glitteringly effect), task lighting in quiet corners, and endless candles.
Of course once you have the right atmosphere, it’s time to share the warmth. And the concept of hygge advocates inviting friends and family round for an evening of good company, excellent conversation and perhaps a board game or two. In a month which sees a spike in depression (January 24 is on record as the most depressing day of the year) nothing beats the winter blues like disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with those we love.
“It’s very important to disconnect when you hygge; you stop surfing the net, you log off Facebook,” says Birgitte. “This is something,” she adds, “which I find confusing about Cyprus – everyone is online constantly. You need to relax, you need a break from that, and hygge is about connecting with real people, face to face.”
However, hygge isn’t all about cosy get-togethers: “It can also be about taking time for yourself,” Birgitte explains. The concept incorporates quiet nights in, cuddled up on the sofa enjoying old movies, escaping into new books or – my personal favourite – hand-writing letters to favourite family members. Pop on the hand-knitted socks you got for Christmas, fish out the Basildon Bond and spread a little of your hygge happiness abroad…
“To properly hygge, you also need a really good cup of coffee or quality tea,” laughs Birgitte. “This is something that’s very hygge, very Danish: quality over quantity.” Whether it’s homemade soups and stews, crusty breads or heart-warming meals, utilising seasonal produce is a very important element of hygge: visit a local farmers’ market; try a nutrient salad made with Stone Castle microgreens; or call up CyHerbia for their unique blends of herbal teas. You could even make your own mulled wine or hot cocoa, or embrace Sunday brunch with plates of fresh pastries and mountains of hot-from-the-oven oatmeal cookies…
In many ways, hygge is about harking back to more traditional values, the idea of staying in and cosseting yourself without recourse to technology or gadgetry.
“Perhaps with so much going on in the world, so many wars and problems, we’re all looking to simpler times, and this is why hygge is becoming more prevalent,” Birgitte concludes.
Subject of endless articles, blog pieces, books (How To Hygge by Signe Johansen has been rocketing up Amazon’s bestseller list) and even college courses (the UK’s Morley College Danish language course includes a module dedicated to the hygge lifestyle) hygge is cosiness personified, and works perfectly when you’re facing another two months of the cold. And it may well explain why the Danes consistently top the polls for happiest country in the world. It’s a concept that’s certainly been working for me over the last month or so: how about bringing a little bit of that hygge happiness to your home this winter?
For more information on hygge, visit www.visitdenmark.com/hygge or try How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living by Signe Johansen