Winter is Time for Hygge*

A sign above a book display near the children’s room in the Olney Library reads: “Hygge with a Good Book.” I thought, “Oh, no, not another new acronym I’m supposed to know and I don’t.” Then I noticed another sign on the other side of the table: “Hygge is a Danish word for Coziness, Warmth” and other related adjectives. It made me conjure up a vision of a white kiva fireplace in Taos, N.M. emitting the fragrance of blazing piñon logs, with a Navajo rug by the fireside. Feeling the bite of the icy air outside, then entering the warmth inside an adobe home epitomizes coziness.

It’s no wonder the Danes have a special word like hygge that conveys even more than the words we use to translate this particular feeling. The Olney librarian told me that the Danes create hygge in their lives year round. They love clusters of candles that light up their long winter nights. Get-togethers with family and friends in a friendly atmosphere is hygge as well. Perhaps taking time for hygge is one reason the Danes are considered to be among the happiest people in the world.

Hygge made me remember the stone fireplace at Half-A-Hill, the country inn and my childhood home in southwestern Missouri, with the model of Columbus’ship, “The Santa Maria,” on the mantel where I hung my long white stocking each Christmas Eve. A few years later on another Dec. 24 there was a coal-burning fireplace in our house on Walnut Street in Springfield, Mo., where I toasted my toes as I was reading “A Christmas Carol.” There seemed to be castles and cottages that appeared in the glowing coals. My face felt sunburned from the heat, yet there was a cold draft on my back. I snuggled down into my mother’s hand-crocheted afghan and soon I was comfy all around.

In January after a deep snowfall, I used to tuck a bowl and spoon into the crook of my arm and stomp out to the back yard to fill the bowl with freshly fallen snow. (My mother didn’t seem to worry about pollution or other kinds of disgusting waste deposited on the surface.) When I had filled it, I lugged the bowl inside our kitchen, added a teaspoon of vanilla, sugar, and a bit of milk to the mixture. It turned to slush as I stirred in all the ingredients, and then I slurped it up with gusto. Meanwhile, the windows steamed up from a kettle boiling on top the stove, yet here I was, bringing winter inside while feeling cozily warm.

Sometimes at twilight I would feel uneasy when the sky was streaked with gold, orange, violet and pale blue ribbons layering low in the sky. The dark was approaching and it seemed menacing until we turned on the lamps in the dining and living rooms. It reminded me of the comforting feeling the pioneers might have had as they circled their wagons around a blazing cooking fire at the end of a long, grueling, daily trek westward.

For me, hygge comes when it’s snowing. I have a pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove and there’s a Penelope Lively novel I haven’t yet read, just waiting for me to begin. I’m sitting in my favorite chair with a lap rug tucked snugly around me and a Bach Brandenburg concerto is on the CD player.

For Town Courier readers: What is hygge for you?

*Pronounced a bit like “hooga.”

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