The art of hygge

The art of hygge

By
Trine Hahnemann
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849498593
Photographer
Columbus Leth

Hygge has over recent years spread beyond the Danish borders. It is often described as an idea, or concept, and in a way that is too limited. Hygge is much more than that. It is embedded in our culture in a very profound way, and where that is most evident is in the language. We use the words hygge and hyggelig all the time. All echelons of society use them, but not all activities are hyggelig. Hygge is for everybody.

Our home is our castle. We refer to homes as stylish, or pristine, but the biggest compliment you can give a Dane for their home is that it is hyggeligt. The interior is crucial. The home creates the first frame for hygge – a dining table is important for lingering over dinner. A hyggelig home is a home that feels lived in; a home that reflects who you are and tells your story.

Our homes are very open to spontaneous visits and the first thing you do is offer guests coffee, or sometimes a glass of wine if it’s around dinnertime. You’ll most likely offer something to eat, too, which just a few decades back would have been a piece of cake, or Danish butter cookies. Alcohol does not have to be part of it.

Hygge is more than anything the atmosphere created by hanging out. We love to hang out at each other’s houses for hours and eat, relax, eat again, talk – and it’s often fine to tune in and out of what is going on, Iike looking through the newspaper, or watching a football game in the background. It can go on for hours. NO rules. The only rule is that it has to feel good; it has to be hyggeligt.

Hygge is, therefore, not defined by the place, but by what atmosphere the place has got to offer, together with the companionship and situation. Outside your home, hygge could be at a café, going for a walk, a casual meeting, eating at a restaurant. A long, formal dinner with highend service would never be described as hyggelig, but if the evening kind of loosens up, the conversation becomes lively, and the ambience makes people get an authentic feeling of being together, then the guests would say that it turned out to be a hyggelig evening after all.

Hygge is often imagined as a winter thing. That is partly true, but hygge is not defined by winter even though we do have a lot of candles at home that we light every evening. I get up in the morning when it is still dark, go down to my kitchen, light the candles, and put the kettle on – then my morning begins.

From the outside, Christmas is properly regarded as the ultimate hygge time. We celebrate for a whole month, decorate our house, meet for Advent on Sundays to bake, make Christmas gifts, collect the Christmas tree in the woods and spend time with family and friends, enjoying the art of hygge traditional cakes, glühwein, and lots of other things that contribute to the ultimate hygge.

But hygge is part of every season. Going to your beach or summerhouse is also all about hygge. The summerhouse often has a fireplace, is full of candles inside and outside; the whole interior is often about hygge; and indoor chairs and outside benches full of pillows and blankets ensure there’s room for lots of hygge. Sitting outside in the long and bright Nordic evenings, lingering over dinner, drinking wine and talking into the early hours with friends is quintessential summer hygge. Eating outside on balconies, in parks and gardens, or at the beach is the Danes’ favourite thing.

Another important occasion for hygge is birthdays, when we have a tradition of being woken up in bed with a birthday song, then before we go to school or work there will be a breakfast table, as we call it, with gifts.

Hygge at work might sound odd, but Danes try to achieve it by having special breaks, like eating breakfast with their team, which is common once a week in many Danes’ working lives. Cake at the office can be a weekly thing for any occasion: that it’s Thursday; it’s raining; we deserve it. Then several colleagues will take a break for 30 minutes in the afternoon, clear somebody’s desk, put flowers on there, light a candle and get together to enjoy cake and coffee.

Hygge alone is also possible. Again, the language is important. You will say: I’m just going to you stay in and hygge by myself, then you will light a candle, make a cup of tea, see a movie or read a book. You would describe hygge but more importantly, you would feel it.

The opposite of hygge is uhygge, which is scary and profoundly unpleasant. Thrillers are described as uhyggelig in Danish, but it is in a deeper sense than scary. It also describes the atmosphere and the whole feeling of suspense. Scary and unpleasant episodes in life can also be uhyggelig.

To incorporate hygge into your life is to get the best out of it in the sense of generating a relaxed and intimate atmosphere in most of what you do. Cooking does play an important part in that, because there is a lot of love in the gesture of cooking for other people. Eating makes us feel good, and eating with other people makes us feel even better. One way I show my love for life and people is by cooking, so for me hygge and cooking are utterly entwined. When I cook, I start by creating hygge around me, even before the actual meal is going to be enjoyed. So for me, hygge is about getting the best out of our daily life, because life is every day – whatever we are up to.

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