Christmas may have come and gone, but the long, cold winter still stretches endlessly in front of us. We have sixty more days of this snowy season, to be exact. People love to hate winter; complaining about the cold seems to be a favorite national pastime. And I get it. I live in Chicago, so when it comes to winter weather we have plenty to complain about. Our winter is not limited to December through March; we remain firmly bundled from October to May, or even beyond. When it snows here, it doesn’t just stick around for a day or two before being plowed or melting away, the white stuff fades to a dingy grey and becomes a permanent fixture for weeks. And it’s not uncommon to have days on end where temperatures hover in the single digits and even the sunshine decides it’s too frigid to make an appearance. Yes, I know the hardships of winter through and through.
Yet, I still kind of love winter.
Why? Because as I watch the snow fall quietly outside my window, blanketing the world anew, I can’t help but let the beauty and magic of it seep right into my soul. Then, as I look back inside our little house, I can’t help but be overcome by the love and warmth and togetherness that fills our home. There is an inexplicable feeling of coziness that comes from snuggling close with those I love most while the cold winds rage outside.
This warm-hearted feeling of coziness, I’ve discovered, has a name. It’s a Danish concept known as “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga), and while there’s no direct English translation, according to the website Hygge House, the word is used to describe “a feeling or moment, either alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming, and special.” Basically, hygge boils down to slowing down, enjoying the simple pleasures, creating intimacy, and being present in the ordinary moments of life. The Danes created hygge as a means of surviving the cold and dark of their own harsh winters; and something has to be said for a nation that weathers one of the worst winter climates, yet still consistently produces some of the world’s happiest people.
The idea of hygge, and embracing a more “hyggeligt” lifestyle of slower days and greater appreciation, has truly transformed the way I feel about this admittedly cold and dreary and sometimes limiting season. As freezing temperatures and swirling snow have swept across much of the nation this week, reaching all the way down to my friends in southern states, I thought I’d share ten tips for adding a little more hygge to your life and warmth to your home.
1. Light a Candle Lighting candles is perhaps the most essential element in the Danish art of creating hygge. The soft peaceful glow that comes when you dim the bright overhead lights and spark a small wick brings instant warmth, calm, and closeness. I find myself captivated by the delicate dance of the tiny flame, and the intimacy it ignites inspires ideas and conversations. Conveniently, lighting a candle also happens to be the easiest thing you could do to up the hygge in your house. Most of us have a couple (or a couple dozen) spare candles lying around the house and an old set of matches tucked away in the bathroom. Dig them out, light them up, and enjoy the beautiful burn. My husband, in fact, became the unwitting cultivator of hygge in this regard. A couple months ago, as he grew increasingly annoyed at the unused candles that sat around our house creating more clutter, he started burning them religiously. As soon as he walks in the door, he lights a candle in our kitchen. His motivation, however, is more purposeful and less hyggeligt – he hopes that by burning the candles, we can finally get rid of them once they’re extinguished. Alas, new candles will always find a way to sneak in and add a little hygge to our home.
2. Wear All the Wool Wool clothing has become a recent obsession of mine, and quite frankly a necessity living in such a cold climate. This Christmas, approximately seventy-five percent of our gifts were something wooly. Our children got wool base layers and pants, my husband got wool socks, and I received a comfy wool shirt and the most incredible wool slippers. My husband and I joked that we should just become sheep farmers with the amount of money we’ve spent on woolen items. But really, it’s the perfect winter fabric – natural and renewable, moisture wicking and odor resistant, soft and comfortable, but above all, insanely warm. For padding around the house, slip on a cozy wool sweater, leggings, and the thickest wool socks. If you feel like venturing outdoors, simply throw on some boots and a coat and you’re ready to go. There are few things cozier than clothing yourself like a sheep.
3. Indulge in Comfort Food and Drink Break out you crock pots and Dutch ovens, it’s soup and stew season! I’m all for a good juice cleanse, but I think I’ll save it for the heat of the summer when I can’t even stomach a hearty meal. Right now, though, bring on the beef and potatoes, the roasted veggies and the rich gravies, the steamy soups and creamy sides. Besides, I like to tell myself, my body needs all those extra fats to keep warm… I’m just trying to save on our heating bill! Truthfully, there are few aromas I love more than a roast that simmers all day, enhancing in intensity as the day wears on and the flavors combine. By the time the sun sinks below the horizon, at 4:00 pm, you have a delicious meal ready to fill the bodies and souls of your household as you gather around the dinner table.
When it comes to drinks, you can choose the route of numbing the bitterness of the season with alcohol, but I find that I’m feeling numb enough already with all this cold. Instead, I crave something that will warm me up and ignite the flames within me. I want to sip something that will stimulate my senses and leave me feeling simultaneously invigorated and calm. Our kettle gets quite the workout this time of year as we brew coffee in the morning and tea in the evening, with hot cocoa thrown somewhere in between. Grab an old favorite mug, fill it with your warm beverage of choice, and savor it slowly, truly tasting the flavors.
4. Bake With the Kids If you’re a mother (or father) of young children, this may be an activity that you actively avoid doing with your little ones. Baking with kids is much less efficient, much more messy, and often less enjoyable than going it alone. Not to mention the results may leave something to be desired. But that’s kind of the point when it comes to hyyge. Baking becomes both an experience and experiment rather than something else to get through. Choose a day and time when you don’t have anywhere to be or anyone coming over, when the time spent and the mess made won’t matter. Then just slow down and try to enjoy the chaos of it all. A few weeks back, my husband decided to bake a cake with our daughter based solely on proportions, an idea I’m not even going to try to explain… but they worked together as he let her choose some of the random ingredients to include. The result? Less than perfect since he accidentally added only half of the recommended sugar. But the idea? Brilliant. They had fun and made something together that they were both proud of, despite the questionable taste (which was easily remedied by adding extra-sugary icing). Enjoy the fruits of your labors with your hot beverage of choice for the ultimate hygge moment.
5. Enjoy Simple Family Traditions Most people associate traditions with holidays, but I feel that simple traditions are all the more meaningful when brought into everyday life. Traditions build in moments to pause and reflect and connect in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day. We still often Light up the Night. For your family it could be a board game played together or completing a puzzle. Perhaps it’s a dance party or a tea party. Or maybe it’s simply sharing a meal together in the evening. The point isn’t to create yet another task that you have to do, but to celebrate the ordinary things you’re already doing. Cherish that togetherness.
6. Take Family Naps This is, perhaps, my favorite family tradition that we’ve added to the mix. Our children are still young enough that they, gloriously, nap during the day, and most of the time we can even manipulate them into sleeping at the same time. When this happens we don’t usually run around the house trying to get everything done, instead we make the conscientious choice to tuck ourselves into warm flannel sheets and snuggle close. As the soft afternoon sun warms the room and I wrap my arms around our sleeping baby while listening to the soft exhales of our toddler’s breath, we drift off to sleep, all together. Sometimes the peace lasts mere minutes, but on a good day we all wake up after a couple of hours, feeling rested and refreshed, and reconnected in the cozy comfort of our shared bed.
7. Have a Movie Night Generally speaking, I’m kind of a crazy person when it comes to TV with my kids. I try to avoid letting them watch it much because I feel that there are so many more interesting things they could be doing with their time and minds. Also, selfishly, I can’t stand it. I find all the loud noises and bright colors, of kids’ shows especially, way too stimulating for me, so I can only imagine how my children’s tiny brains feel. But of course it’s a balance, and in winter, between the constant sicknesses and sub-zero temps that keep us indoors, we need a little something to break up the day. Still, TV time is usually limited to a single 20 minute show, during which I frantically try to do everything I can’t when I have kids needing something from me every 3.5 seconds. So movie night is a special time for our family. We try to pick something we will all (mostly) enjoy, and sit down together intentionally, limiting phones and other unnecessary distractions. We make popcorn. The real kind. Not the kind that inflates a bag in the microwave, but the tiny kernels that produce that distinctive lovely popping sound on the stovetop before being drenched in way too much butter and salt. Then we snuggle together under a blanket and indulge in entertainment.
8. Read a Book When temperatures drop, it’s easy to stay on the couch and binge on Netflix. And certainly there’s a time and place for that in this snuggly season. But there is something wonderfully cozy about holding a book in your hands, feeling the weight of the pages as you let the words inspire your imagination. Whether you are snuggled with wee ones beneath a fuzzy blanket reciting Dr. Suess, or curling up on your own with that novel that’s been collecting dust on your bookshelf, let yourself focus and dive fully into the beautiful new world that a book brings to life.
9. Create Something As we allow the pace of life to slow down and relax into the simple pleasures of ordinary days, you may find that you now have more time and space to pursue a creative passion. Though it can feel limiting to spend so much time indoors, it also provides the perfect platform to work on a passion project. For me, that is writing; for my husband, it’s working on and flying his plane. Our interests may differ greatly, but the common thread is allowing ourselves the reflective insight to find what we love and the intentional cultivation of a quieter season within which to toil. With children, you may pull out the paints and play-doh; or finish that craft project you’ve been talking about for ages. Besides, if you look through a new lens, winter is not merely a season of dead leaves and barren trees. It is a fount of inspiration – from the glint of the midday sun glistening across fresh snow to the soft afternoon rays casting shadows on the landscape, the rare sight of a red bird in flight or the quiet stillness of a dark cold night – the wonders are surely there if you only stop to see them.
10. Go on Winter Walks Lest you think all hygge activities have to be limited to snuggling under a warm blanket, it can actually be a cozy experience to venture out into the cold world. I personally cannot stay inside too long. My mind and body and soul have no regard for the freezing temperatures; I need to breath the fresh air and feel the chill of the wind against my skin and experience the sights and sounds that only exist in the natural world. I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” So we put on layer upon layer of wool (see above) and get outside. We walk and play with friends at our weekly Wild Child group until we can’t feel our fingers and our faces are frozen with the smiles that come from reconnecting with the fun of nature. Or we trek down to our local park and run like crazy around the deserted ball field, making snow angels and throwing snowballs and ignoring that the thermometer reads zero degrees. Then we come home with cold hands but warm hearts.
These are just a few of my favorite hygge things. Your ideas and activities surrounding hygge may look completely different, and that’s the joy of it. Slow down, allow yourself the time and space to just be, to relax into the simple pleasures that warm your heart and captivate your soul, and to enjoy and find joy even in the cold and grey and everyday of this season.