Serendipity…searching for how to survive winter I learned what I was missing in my daily life.
I stood in soggy boots, the north wind blew at me sideways, my face was red, my fingers were numb, my nose was running, and my hair was a hot mess. It was my first winter in Canada. I was not prepared.
Then came the second winter and I was still a mess.
Come 2017 I ignored the idea of winter until November came and went leaving me in December. The winter wind is roaring back and I’ll need more than waterproof boots to get through this one.
I lived in Florida for years and they don’t have winters. I lived in Texas a bit and their winters are just cold air. Texas is just sky and flat land. Summer there is hell’s breath, but winter is survivable. I grew up in Tennessee, where winter is mild with the occasional blizzard. I did get stuck in a blizzard in Colorado once; had to drive for 24 hours to get away from it. That’s another story.
I’m trying to make a home in Canada so I need to adapt. I got a giant cup of coffee and googled countries with serious winters and how they survive it, which lead me to Scandinavian cultures which lead me to the word hygge. The word hit me like a wool sweater in the face. (That joke will make more sense later.)
It sounds a bit like “hoo-ga” (do not say “higgy”) and the word belongs to the Danish with no English equivalent. It has siblings in other languages, however. The Dutch have gezelligheid. The Norwegians have koselig. The Swedish have mysig. The Germans have gemütlichkeit. The Finnish have kalsarikännit, which is sitting alone at home in your underwear drinking with no intention of going outside. Close enough. (If I got the words wrong, correct me.)
In a gist, it is a feeling…the feeling you get when you’re safe, cozy, and enjoying things. The opposite feeling I get in the winter. The word is a notable cultural aspect of Denmark. The word is used as a noun or verb. Meeting a friend over coffee can be hygge. Sitting by the fire can be hygge. Having a piece of cake with family can be hygge. People hygge all the time and don’t realize it. Talking about politics, playing on your phone, or being rude is not hygge.
There were some clever people who saw the opportunity of wrapping hygge in a bow and selling it to the masses. The feeling cannot be bought or sold or forced; you don’t have to spend a dime to feel hygge. It’s marketed as sitting by the fireplace wearing socks drinking hot cocoa, but you can feel it by the campfire in the summer with friends.
The dark side of moving to a new country (or even a new city) is that hygge is lost. As a psychology nerd, I see a connection between hygge and the familiar. Being an expat means re-creating a home in a new, strange place. Hygge becomes a rare and special feeling. Though hygge cannot be forced it can be invited or encouraged, so my game plan is to
survive enjoy winter, like practicing old traditions from home, making new traditions, candlelight dinners, time with friends, making and sharing comfort food. Time will pass and life in Canada will settle in, being less foreign and more familiar.
I can’t visit family or friends back home and I’m still getting to know this country. I was fortunate to move in with my boyfriend. His family and friends are welcoming. Many expats move alone and must struggle without support in their new home. I can’t imagine that.
No one likes having their snot freeze, but I’m thankful for the chance to experience winter and have excuses to do things only suited for cold weather.
Now, pardon me while I go put on a second pair of socks. That’s right…double socks.
Hygge may be used as a commerce tool to sell things, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Behind the Instagram aesthetics of pie and coffee mug cozies, there’s a real feeling. Here’s your permission to take a break.
Gezelligheid vs Hygge < Dutch vs Danish differences in coziness.
9 Ways to be Gezellig < The Dutch hygge
Is Hygge real, or just hype? < Danish answer the question.
Dutch Tell Ya How to Gezellig < Features lots of cool Dutch words.
Kalsarikännit < Finnish