Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness (2016)
Hygge Throughout the Year
“I associate hygge with both light and dark. In winter, in the pitch-black months, everything has to be done indoors, and you have to make it hyggelig to keep going. So you gather in front of the hearth, packed in blankets and surrounded by candles, and move closer together and draw the curtains as protection against the night outside. And when the light slowly returns in February, March and April, you climb out of your cave more and more; sitting stubbornly, half frozen, on a pavement café one early evening in spring, drinking beer, huddled against the wind, but you continue, and the evenings are wonderfully hyggelig, in a weird way, full of unity against the cold and a feeling of victory; we did it again.
When the summer really comes, when the light in June and July never really disappears, hygge moves out to the coasts. Families take to the countryside, camping behind inverted boats on the beach, you meet people you have not seen all winter and gossip about what has happened since last year. You spend your days reading books and walking lazily around until it starts to rain. Then you retreat indoors, bake fruit cakes and read Donald Duck comics, but as soon as the sun peeks out again, you move out on to the terrace for a good lunch with rye bread and beer, go on fishing trips, bathe and live life on the beach during those few days of the year that it is possible. The life that takes place there is the hyggeligste and happiest that I know of, and I take that sense of community that arises out of that pure summer euphoria with me under the blankets throughout the winter.”
Amalie Laulund Trudsø
All Year Round
Due to the big changes in seasons, the hygge changes character depending on what time of year it is:
When winter has held me tight for more than the estimated three months, and I have bravely lit candles and kept up the good spirit indoors, and I look down on the ground and see the first snowdrop, I realize how much I have waited for this moment. The first sign that spring and light are on their way.
It is a beautiful season that coaxes you outdoors again after months spent hygge-caving. It lures you out with flowers and green buds on the trees and the promise of a new beginning. Nature is blooming and so is the mood of most of the population.
To me this time of seasonal hygge involves moving outside again: enjoying a cup of coffee in a streak of sunlight, picking snowdrops and anemones and putting them in a vase, and enjoying the two weeks of immensely beautiful cherry blossom in April.
This season also has many traditions and minor holidays that are worth celebrating.
Secret snowdrop letters (gækkebrev)
A month before Easter, friends and family send out small letters to each other signed with just a little dot for each letter in the sender’s name. If the receiver can’t guess who it is from, he owes the sender a chocolate egg. This tradition is an old Danish custom that dates all the way back to the eighteenth century when young lovers would send paper cuttings to one another.
How to make a snowdrop letter
Take a piece of writing paper. Fold the top right corner down, to form a square. Cut the excess bottom part off so you now have a triangle. Fold the triangle twice more into a smaller triangle. Cut off the top (the part where the ends meet) to make the letter round. Now it is time to be creative – make cuts on either side of the triangle. Unfold it, and write your verse; don’t forget to write your name in dots. Put it in an envelope together with a dried snowdrop flower and send it off.
Verse for a snowdrop letter:
Snowdrop, snowdrop, snowdrop fine
Omen true and hope divine
From the heart of winter brings
A delightful glimpse of spring.
Guess my name I humbly beg
Your reward – an Easter egg.
Let these puzzling dots proclaim
Every letter of my name..…
Summertime is holiday time, potter about in slippers time, togetherness time. Time for having long breakfasts on the terrace in the mornings, and having a barbecue or lighting a bonfire in the long and light summer evenings.
Summer-hygge also involves canning and preserving all the great tastes of the season, so you can still have the taste of summer even in the depths of winter. I make pickled tomatoes or onions, jam from fruits and berries – or this great elderflower cordial:
Summer in a Glass – Elderflower Cordial
Whenever you have guests over, expected or unexpected, a glass of elderflower lemonade is always a treat. It is homemade and refreshing. Mix the cordial with sparkling or still water, or perhaps add it to some sparkling wine.
Keep it in the fridge or give the bottles as a gift.
The wonderful thing about elderflower is that it grows in the wild, and you have to go on a little expedition to find it.
Cut the elderflowers off with a pair of scissors. Choose the fresh ones that are not brown yet, as this will affect the quality of the cordial.
Makes approx. 1.5 litres
· 20–30 elderflower blossoms
· 2 organic lemons
· 2 tbsp citric acid (If you don’t have this, don’t worry. It acts as a preservative that conserves the cordial. If you don’t add it, you – unfortunately – have to drink it all within a week …)
· 650g sugar (perhaps cane sugar)
· 1.2 litres boiling water
Rinse and clean the blossoms and put them in a big pot or bowl with a lid. Rinse the lemons and slice them. Add them to the pot. Mix the citric acid with the sugar and dissolve it in the boiling water. Pour the resulting cordial over the flowers and lemons, then put the lid on and put it in the fridge for four days.
Pour the elderflower cordial through a sieve then pour it into clean, sterilized bottles. Mix with water or wine and enjoy.
Put the cordial into ice-cube bags and put them in the freezer. Add one or two to still or sparkling water. This is a great way to make a glass of ice-cold elderflower lemonade on hot summer days – or on any day when you long for a taste of summer.
From the end of September, I start to prepare myself for hibernation time again. I make sure that my home is well-stocked with candles and take my knitted sweaters down from the top shelf. Autumn is my favourite time of year. Going for a walk in the forest on a blue and bright October day, looking at the beautiful red-brown-orange shades of the trees and kicking the crisp leaves is one of the things I love the most in autumn. When evening starts to fall and the darkness is creeping in, I head back to my home, longing for warmth. Autumn is time to be indoors, to indulge and immerse myself in small projects, books and cooking food for hours on the stove.
‘Room for guests’, ‘soft lighting’ and ‘a little accompanying snack’ are my keywords when I wish to create a hyggelig time indoors. The following projects will help you invite the Autumn hygge into your home. They are kindly shared with us by the three girls behind the Danish do-it-yourself book Homesick DIY.
A Unique Hobby-Clay Bowl
Hobby clay is a cheap and easy material to work with and it has a nice ceramic look once it has air-dried. Here we’ve used it to make a bowl and its ‘handmade-ness’ just adds to its beauty. The irregular form of each bowl is all part of its charm. You can use your unique bowl for decoration, for your jewellery or for your keys. Or, if you give it a coat of environmentally friendly varnish, you can also use it to serve yummy pink marshmallows and other nibbles.
What you need:
· Hobby clay
· Fine sandpaper
· Hobby varnish
Knead a lump of clay and form it into a ball. It is good to use white hobby clay as it has a nice, natural colour. Smooth out the clay and form it from the middle, pulling out with your thumb, until you reach your desired bowl shape. Be as light as possible with your fingertips if you’d like the bowl to have a thinner edge. Wet your fingertips with water and apply it to the bowl to achieve a smoother finish, to round off edges and to remove as many fingerprints as possible after shaping the bowl.
Let the bowl air dry. This takes about one to two days, depending on the clay and the thickness of the bowl. Always read the instructions on the packet.
You can leave the bowl as it is or you can polish the edges with fine sandpaper to soften them. Only the limits of your imagination restrict the colours and patterns you can use to decorate your bowl. If you want to use the bowl for foodstuffs, remember to coat it in an environmentally friendly hobby varnish afterwards.
Fill the bowl with your favourite sweets and enjoy a hyggelig evening curled up on the sofa.
To build your own rustic plank table is not at all difficult – and it’s budget-friendly. This plank table measures 90cm x 165cm and is suitable for four people, but you can easily make a table to suit your needs.
What you need:
· 8 planks for the tabletop
· 1 extra plank, cut in two, to lie across the 8 planks above and hold them together
· Carpenter’s measure
· Carpenter’s square
· 32 flat-head wood screws
· Sandpaper, fine and coarse (or an electric sander)
· Wood stain
· 2 table trestles
Measure the length of the 8 planks and saw them so they are all the same length. Saw the extra plank into two pieces of wood, so they are a little shorter than the width of the table, but are still long enough to lie across all the planks. Sand the planks with the coarse sandpaper and then with the fine one, or with a sander. Sand all surfaces, especially along the edges, where people will sit.
Line the planks up with each other, and lie them with the tabletop side face down. Now place the two shorter pieces of wood across the planks at each end and screw them into place, using screws long enough to pass through both the wood and the planks – but not so long that they break through the tabletop surface. Try to press the planks together as tightly as possible to avoid gaps between the planks in the finished tabletop. Vacuum clean the tabletop for sawdust and wipe it with a damp cloth. Now the tabletop is ready to be stained. We used a grey stain to achieve a rustic look. Always read the instructions and follow the recommended drying time.
When the tabletop is completely dry, you can place it on table trestles, such as those available from IKEA. The tabletop can just rest on the trestles, though we screwed ours on securely.
It’s time to feel utterly good about gathering on the sofa with family and friends, watching a TV show, playing games, reading, talking, eating simmer food and lighting candles.
This also is the season for making homemade Christmas decorations, baking, meeting each other around mulled wine and pancake puffs, and celebrating St Lucy’s Day on 13 December, when choirs parade with candles and sing the Lucia song. Having a string of lights ensures a good atmosphere even when Christmas is over:
A string of lights creates the finest glow and a hyggelig atmosphere. For this project, we spiced up the classic, boring string of lights with something as ordinary as table-tennis balls to achieve a softer light. It creates hygge and a nice atmosphere when darkness falls, wherever you place it – outside or inside, in your favourite corner or wound round the handrail of your terrace.
What you need:
· A string of lights (LED, so the bulbs do not overheat)
· Table-tennis balls (as many as there are bulbs on the string)
· A craft knife
Make an incision in each table-tennis ball. Try not to cut the joins of the table-tennis balls, as they could break.
Push each of the bulbs from the string of lights firmly through the incisions in the balls. Try to fix any dents or bulges that occur as you press into the balls.
Whether it is inviting the same group of friends for New Year’s Eve every year or celebrating your birthday in the garden, year after year, traditions bring back memories and bind people together.
I have a friend who gathers all her friends for the nowadays little-known Danish tradition Kyndelmisse, in February. It is an old Christian holiday, Candle Mass, celebrating that half the winter is over. We meet late afternoon and bake pancakes together. When the pancakes are all round and ready, we enjoy them at the table set with lighted candles. Naturally.
Why not have a look in your own calendar; go on a search for forgotten holidays or old traditions worthy of a little renaissance.
Margrethe lives in the northern part of Jutland with her husband and two children, and since she was a child her family have celebrated an evening called Walpurgis, another occasion that very few Danes celebrate:
“On Saturday we celebrated Walpurgis evening (the last evening in April). Some years we have had a garden full of children and adults. But, this year, it was just the four of us. We had an easy morning, sitting at the breakfast table, hygg-ing ourselves and talking about why we celebrate Walpurgis, and how I had celebrated it with my parents when I was a child. It brought back wonderful memories of spring evenings with bonfires, games and warm pancakes. The children love to hear those stories. We spent the evening, as per tradition, by the fire. I sat there immersing myself in conversation with my husband, Morten, about everything that we dream of and work towards realizing for us as a family, while the children played nearby. We stayed there by the fire until it got dark – until we all ended up under the same blanket as the fire burnt out – another hyggelig night to remember. And I thought how privileged I was to be able to sit there with my family. That I have the opportunity to do so makes me humble.”
Margrethe Sønderlund Andersen,
Hygge and Time Off
Holiday time is winding down. But you don’t necessarily have to travel to the end of the world to experience quality time and hygge. Often it is right in front of our noses, or only a short jaunt away. Retreating to an allotment house, a summer house, a ramshackle old farm in Sweden are all hyggelig ways in which Danes unwind and relax from everyday life.
The sun is low in the sky now and has coloured everything a warm orange, the smallest ridges in the sand casting long shadows behind them. We’re allowed to bathe in the evening. For once no one says anything about wet hair and colds, and we just throw off our clothes and run out into the glistening water. When we come back again, our teeth are rattling, we can hardly pull our warm jumpers over our heads because of shaking hands. My plait is dripping wet and leaves a wet trail like a river down my back. The fire has been burning for a while now, the embers have grown and have become flames in twilight’s beginning. I sit with my mother, who barely has time to remove the French café glass of red wine before I knock it over the blankets; she puts her arms round me and shakes her head at the wet hair. The heat from the fire lights up our faces, making all their features clearly visible. When a moment is calm, when a single minute or two is quiet from all the adults’ talk about the old days, a kind of New Year glides in and settles imperceptibly around us. The lighthouse on Nekselø flashes rhythmically, the headland out there only a silhouette against the still-bright sky. When, much later, we walk home along the dark beach path, afraid of stepping on slugs with bare feet, I am certain: winter can come, we will survive.
From Sommerhus by Amalie Laulund Trudsø
The Allotment House and Garden
“My family has an allotment fifteen minutes from Copenhagen. It is a simple house, small kitchen, small living room and small bed. Actually everything is small – except for the garden where we have grown flowers, rows of herbs and some vegetables in raised beds. I come out here when I need to focus without distractions, or when I just need to unwind. I mow the lawn, enjoy a beer on the veranda, read a book or prepare apple seedlings. I love to cook and being able to grow my own herbs and vegetables makes cooking so much better.
I play football on a team with my friends and our home ground is just next to the allotment. After training sessions we gather for a beer and a chat in the garden. In the summer I often invite friends to barbecue and hang out here. My mother also uses the allotment as a place to meet with her friends. They sit in the sun, knitting and talking, hygg-ing together.”
Cornelius Simonsen, Vesterbro
Swedish Farm House
“We visit our family’s house in southern Sweden, only a few hours’ drive from Copenhagen, as often as possible. It’s like going back in time with no electricity, no running water or internet. It’s hidden deep in the forest right next to the most beautiful lake. The fireplace is always lit in the winter to keep us warm and when the sun has gone down you light up candles to read, to play games and even to brush your teeth. To me, nothing is as hyggelig as that place, because it makes me feel like I’ve got all the time in the world.”
Nanna Mosegaard, Copenhagen
Hygge Is Found All Over the World
Hicham Bennani is forty years old and lives in the northern part of Jutland with his nine-year-old son, his Danish wife, Satie, and their little newborn baby. He originates from Morocco, where he was born in 1976. At the age of seventeen he moved to England with his family and lived in Brighton for twelve years. For the last eleven years he has lived in Denmark and according to Hicham, hygge can be found all over the world, as long as there is togetherness, something for the senses and a feeling of spontaneity.
“In Morocco, the symbol of hygge is the tray with the mint teapot and the glasses. Before anything gets done, you get together and drink a glass of tea. Usually there are pouffes and cushions to help you chill and loosen up. Some will be dressed in their djellaba and fruit and salted snacks will be served and there will be non-stop talking. Maybe the topic of conversation is something big in the news, something huge overseas, or something that happened in Casablanca. But usually it starts with small talk: ‘Have you heard what Fatima did, oh, she got married … Really, the daughter of …’ and then it goes on.
In England I often experienced hygge in the pubs. You can ‘belong’ to a bar, by having your own pewter beer tankard, with your name engraved on it. Here you get together, leave the formal tone outside, joke and talk about issues in a light-hearted way. I especially miss the Sunday pub. In Brighton where my family lived, we used to go for a Sunday pub lunch, where you sit down, have roast lamb and Yorkshire pudding and exchange stories from the weekend. Most stories have been told before, but they are brought up again, as they keep making us laugh, and it all adds to the hyggelig, light and relaxed atmosphere.
In the Danish hygge you are quite straight with each other and get quickly into the deeper layers of what you really wish to talk about. In Denmark, hygge is closely connected to time spent with family and good friends, whereas in Morocco it is more common to hygge with people you don’t know that well. The intimate space of the home is more open to neighbours and other people you are not that close to.
“The talking volume in Morocco is definitely louder than in both Denmark and England. I have a little theory about that. I think that in the north you need alcohol to get the volume up. In the south you need mint tea to cool the volume down.”
The main difference between the Danish hygge and the hygge I have found in other places is that the Danes have a word for it. Now, living in Denmark and having a word for it makes me more aware of where I find hygge and how I bring it into a situation. The word ‘hygge’ covers it all – the togetherness, the little something for the senses, and the spontaneity. Having a word for it expresses something quite advanced in a way. When you make a word, that allocates it all in one, it means you are pretty close to the essence of what hygge is about.
In my opinion hygge can be found all over the world, and there are more similarities than differences. The main value in the universal hygge is the fact that in a hyggelig atmosphere you can relax and be who you are without meeting judgement.
Actually, hygge should be a religion.”