I have been watching how the concept of Hygge has become a more used and recognised term in the UK and US over the past 18 months. This is largely based on a few savvy people who have published a range of hygge books, marketing campaigns that are tapping into the term as well as newspaper and magazine articles which have brought the phrase hygge into people’s awareness. Being Danish, I thought it was about time for me to explore this trend, since I was born and bred in Denmark. After all, over the years, I have been exposed to hygge on a regular basis. Despite having lived in the UK for 25 years, I still like to say that we offer a lot of hygge in our pre-predominately English household! To help me write this article and crystalise my thoughts, I asked a few fellow Danes to support me by providing their views on hygge, and what makes something hyggeligt.
What is hygge?
First, what does the word hygge mean? Well, there are lots of variations of the word due to grammatical issues but also related to how it is actually used in daily context. However, the plain and simple explanation is that hygge is about creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with the people we love, and those we enjoy spending time with.
Many reports, studies and articles state that Denmark is one of the happiest nations in the world, however, the point of this piece is not to enter into a discussion on whether the Danes are happier than other nationalities, or whether this happiness is related to the term hygge or not. One of my family members hit the nail on the head when she said ‘I do not think that we Danes have a patent on the word hygge because I actually believe that each country is able to create their own cosy atmosphere according to the culture of each country’. Personally, I have always appreciated reading real life examples, and hope you will find enjoyment from our thoughts, and then decide whether you are ready to infuse some Danish hygge into your life.
To get us started, I think it is important to know what my friends and family feel are the three most important elements to capture the elusive sense of hygge. In no particular order, here are their favourites from my very long list of options:
Hygge and the Importance of Lighting
Clearly, lighting plays an important part of creating a hyggelig atmosphere, and here we are not just talking about the vast amount of candles that Danes use. Yes, I have been accused many times by British friends that I have a tendency to light candles at any given opportunity! Candles are used widely in Denmark, and it is always a mission of mine to spot the number of candles featured on the set of Danish TV programmes or films.
However, ambient lighting is another way of ensuring you have a home that is full of hygge, by using well placed table, wall and floor lamps instead of solely relying on the ceiling light. Coming home to a cosy environment is paramount, in particular in those dark months like Henriette says ‘it is important that every day is a good day. That you feel at home, and you can be yourself, do what you want to do, together as a family or even alone, but candles are important, in just about any room, and preferably scented candles’. Clearly, there’s a huge market for those pesky candles! I have to confess that in the early years of being here, when visiting Denmark, I used to buy tons of candles and stash them in my suitcase, in all colours and sizes. The reason…candles are so much cheaper in Denmark, it would be a crime not to stock up!
Hyggelig Food and Drinks
We use our 5 senses to interpret life, and recall fond memories. I am sure you agree that a sense of belonging is often brought around by socialising and eating. This is certainly true for me as some of my greatest memories are anchored around food, and in particular food from my childhood before moving to the UK. Today, some of my favourite Danish foods have become my non-Danish family’s favourite too, and they do indeed generate a strong sense of hygge. A birthday celebration is not complete without the making of a Danish birthday cake (lagkage) which is now much-loved by my husband’s family. Needless to say, that a visit to Denmark equals a trip to the supermarket to bring back special items like remoulade (relish condiment), vanilla powder, snegle (cinnamon swirls) and of course, a wide selection of liquorice.
From my small survey, Christmas was a clear winner in respect of when people feel the highest level of hygge. I can definitely empathise with that result because it is the time of year where our family celebrates all things Danish. We start on the 1st December and keep going throughout the entire month which includes nisser (Santa’s little elves living in our loft). The nisser visit during the night and leave a little something in the kids’ stockings, and yes, this happens every single morning during the month of December, they are very busy those little elves!
The biggest event and excuse for us to invite friends and family over happen on Sunday advents where we serve homemade æbleskiver and gløg (pancake dumplings and mulled wine). As Christian puts it ‘everyone is happy and talking to each other, it is so nice to catch up, that's what I'm looking forward to when I have guests over’.
Jenny adds her thoughts on Christmas as she ‘loves Christmas because it is associated with so many traditions and spending time together as a family. I love baking Christmas biscuits, and making marzipan with my children. But I especially love to see the magic happen when the naughty nisser play tricks or Santa pops by on Christmas Eve’.
It's the Company that Makes or Breaks Hygge
I also asked everyone to pick one top category from my very long list. Interestingly enough, everyone picked the same group ‘the people you are spending time with’ as being the main contributor to hygge. For me, this really confirms the Danish mentality of hygge, the concept of spending time with friends and family who have been invited over to your home, or they simply drop by for a quick coffee or beer without an invitation!
On the flip side, I wanted to know what can destroy that sense of hygge, Christian states that ‘a hyggelig feeling is gone if people get annoyed, angry or they feel unduly insulted’. Jenny agrees with this statement as being in ‘a bad mood is devastating for a good and enjoyable evening’. It seems that is it not just down to people’s mood but that external factors can also play a part with Henriette saying that it is damaging ‘when people think it is acceptable to use electronic gadgets when you are trying to have a hyggelig time’.
Making Time for Hygge
As an adult you can play an important part in building valuable memories for yourself and others. Christian shares one of his fondest memories ‘when my nephew and niece were small, we cycled around with a packed lunch plus soft drinks and found a place where we sat down to eat, and told each other made up stories. That's probably one of the things I will never forget because it was basic hygge’.
Jenny agrees ‘I am convinced that parents set the framework for hygge and that children are very grateful as long as their parents are present and interact with their children. But if you ask my six-year-old son, there is no doubt he thinks that hygge means eating sweets and watching a movie together as a family’.
Simply taking time out and living in the present is a huge conduit for creating an atmosphere of hygge, start by using every opportunity to find that special moment, enjoy life and other people’s company. Even if it is the simple task of eating dinner at the table as a family, and then doing the dishes together. Put some music on in the background, and chat about the day’s events without stress. Create your own moments of hygge from life’s simple pleasures.
Discover Hygge Today with FREE Colouring Book Download
Let's wrap things up with our last special memory shared by Lise 'as my daughter was growing up she developed a keen interest in anything related to mixing colours. Very early on, I would encourage her to do simple colouring projects. This is a tradition we have continued, and today, years later, we still get the colouring books out and while we try to stay within the lines, we chat about everything and nothing. To me, this is hygge in its purest form'.
I love visualising this idyllic scene, and to encourage others to take up such a wonderful family activity, I have put together a great resource for you. Time to get the colouring pens out, download and print your FREE colouring pages which are based on the Christmas spirit, and of course, the elusive nisser. Have fun making special memories.
By Tina Elven
with thanks to Guest Contributors