Set the mood for togetherness
It is the winter of our discontent. Beset by ice and cold and dirty air, our spirits slump. The meager sunlight leaves some of us craving Vitamin D. Others, like me—the sons of ancestral Danes named Rasmus, Soren and Anders—are guided to hygge by a primal compass.
Hygge creates a sanctuary on the long nights and monochromatic days of winter. The Danish word (pronounced HUE-guh) is typically translated as “cozy,” but it has connotations of contentment and self-enrichment. According to Danish anthropologist Dr. Jeppe Trolle, hygge is a cultural concept derived from “home, togetherness, the enjoyment of leisure, food and drinks.”
To the 15-percent of Utahns with genealogical ties to Scandinavia, hygge comes as naturally as singing on key. Everyone else has to work at it. However, the hygge lifestyle has become so trendy in the U.S., Amazon lists 20 how-to-be-hygge books.
Every one of those self-help books names conversation as the linchpin of hygge. A 10 on the hygge scale is a few good friends sitting and talking in a room made cozy by attention to sensorial detail: the touch of wool, the mellow light of candles, the fragrance of cardamom, the taste of coffee and pastry, the sound of a Chopin nocturne.
Annual surveys of the world’s happiest countries always rank Denmark at the top. Hygge is a contributing factor. Perhaps it can do the same for you. In an exercise of self-interest—even if you aren’t a shirttail Dane—enhance your small and large social events this year with these proven hygge techniques:
• Turn off overhead lights. Dim lamps. Light candles, dozens of candles—votives, tapers, pillars. Jeff Lebowski’s rug may have tied his Los Angeles room together, but the warm glow of candles is more suited to our climate.
• Use “glimmer strings” of LEDs for effect: Weave the tiny, battery-operated lights through the blooms of poinsettias or Spider Chrysanthemums.
• Lower the volume of background music. Choose instrumentalists like Julian Bream and George Winston.
• Resist the wood fires that are ultra-hygge in Denmark and places other than Utah. Spare Salt Lake City’s air a load of fine-particle pollutants by using a crackling-fire video on a television or arranging candles in tiers on the hearth.
• Include scented candles in the mix. Consider a subtle, olfactory theme using cardamom—Scandinavia’s favorite spice—in candles, cookies, bread and glugg, Denmark’s traditional mulled wine.
In fact, you could host a Nordic-themed party based on cardamom. Begin with a make-your-own selection of cardamom cocktails (or non-alcoholic cardamom ginger ale). Serve smoked-salmon cardamom spread and goat cheese cardamom cherry crostini as hors d’oeuvres. Conclude with a plate of cardamom cookies, homemade cardamom gelato and a cup of cardamom coffee. Recipes abound on the Internet.
The dark nights of December need not usher in a season of discontent. They can be viewed as opportunities for hygge-crafted contentment. To go gentle into a good night, combine candles, flowers, good food, plenty of wine, and, of course, close friends. Skoal!