I am Canadian, not Danish, but I like to think I know how to 'hygge' properly.
'Hygge' was all the rage last winter, as you might recall. The Danish word roughly translates as 'coziness' and the concept became super-trendy, dominating Instagram feeds, store displays, book lists, and magazines with images of warm, welcoming, rustic living rooms, draped in plaid blankets and lit by candles.
In the midst of the hygge madness, I wrote a few articles, such as "Why are we so in love with hygge?" and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek story about how growing up "in a house that looked like a hygge postcard" was a lot of work. I've been known to criticize the consumer aspect of hygge, even calling it "a home décor project for urbanites," but I do think there's value in the concept.
A desire for coziness is innate in humans, especially those of us living in cold, snowy climates. Here, our social lives ebb and flow with the seasons, affected by how difficult it is to go out, versus stay in for the night. There's a very real, primal instinct to stay close to the fire when the snow is blowing so hard that you can't even see across the street.
Because of where I grew up, in the quiet forest of Muskoka, Ontario, and the fact that I spent my winters hauling firewood, building fires, and cooking on a wood-fired cook stove, I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on real-life hygge, albeit the Canadian version, which is significantly less cool than the Danish.
My craving for hygge-ness has returned in the last few weeks, since my southwestern Ontario town was blasted by snowfall -- hence, my guide to having an idyllic hygge winter. This is how I plan to spend most evenings between now and March, and I hope you can, too.
Fire is a must for a true hygge experience. If you're lucky enough to have a wood-burning fireplace, put it to good use. Learn how to build a proper fire. (I even wrote instructions here.) If you have a fireplace but are not allowed to use it, put candles inside. Or go outside to build a campfire. Kids will love it.
The more candles, the better. My family uses candles at every dinner in wintertime, when it's already dark outside by 5 p.m. It sets an instant calm and cozy atmosphere that puts everyone at ease and makes the meal feel like a real occasion. Use candles in the living room, too, to set a special mood.
What tickles your fancy? Hot apple cider, simmered with a cinnamon stick, or mulled spiced wine, or hot chocolate with whipped cream, or a cup of steaming tea? Enjoy hot drinks frequently throughout the winter months. They warm the body and soul. My go-to favorite is tea, which I drink all day long. (I work from home, which makes this easy.) I start with green tea in the mornings, switch to Earl Grey or black throughout the day, and finish with mint in the evenings.
No one likes ice blocks on the end of their legs. Keeping your feet warm is a must for true hygge enjoyment, especially if those feet are propped up on a stool in front of the fire. I opt for wool socks most of the time. Splurge, if you can, on good quality socks; it makes a difference and they last a long time. I also wear hand-knitted leg warmers and hard-soled Canadian-made moccasins around the house.
This is not an official 'hygge' recommendation that you'll see on most websites, but based on my personal experience, I don't think you can have a truly cozy evening in the living room unless you've got a great book on the go. I keep my pile of books on the fireplace mantel where I can see them. Knowing they're mostly library books keeps me moving, since they'll be due shortly. If you're really wanting to keep the Scandinavian mood alive, check out "Norwegian Wood" by Lars Mytting. It's a fun read.
Nothing says 'hygge' to me like a pot of soup simmering on the stove, especially on weekends. Make a pot of bean, minestrone, or curried lentil soup and let it bubble away for a few hours, filling the house with delectable steam and aroma. This is slow cooking at its best, perfectly matched with lazy days.
Blankets & Flannel Shirts
Every hygge scene on Instagram features blankets. No doubt many of those scenes are staged, but as someone who does spend a lot of time on her couch in the evenings, I must say that a great blanket makes a difference. I like the cotton flannel quilt my aunt gave me the Christmas I was ten. It's a "quillow," with a pocket for my feet into which the quilt can fold like a pillow, but usually I just keep my feet inside.
Flannel shirts add to the mood. We call them the "Muskoka tuxedo" in the region I'm from, since they're a wardrobe mainstay for real, working people; I'm talking about lumberjacks and carpenters and trappers, not downtown Toronto hipsters. I wear a flannel shirt with black leggings and a pair of wool socks -- and wild moose wouldn't be able to drag me from the house!
Spending time outdoors may be the opposite of curling up in a cozy living room, but getting outside each day adds to the cozy experience. It's only after I've gone for a long hike or trekked on snowshoes through the forest or skated on a frozen lake that I can fully relax inside. Try it. You'll feel energized, satisfied, replete with nature, which makes it easier to relax. And your skin will have that delicious tingle after hours of cold air, followed by warmth.
Most importantly, time to relax
You can't have hygge without giving yourself time just to be, whether it's alone or with family and friends. Empty your calendar of obligations. Rip up the to-do list (as much as you can). Give yourself permission to hibernate for these few, short months. View it as a time to replenish yourself, to catch up on sleep and reading, to connect with family. Summer will be here before you know it, and then these slow hygge evenings will be a warm, distant memory.