Up until the last few years you could definitely describe me as a non-hugger. When I was a department head and mentoring younger members of my department, I’d pass tearful colleagues who needed a hug over to Julie, the lovely lady who sat next to me in the teacher prep room. She was always a great giver of hugs.
Teaching is a stressful job, especially when you’re young and unsure of yourself. When a young staff member stood behind my chair and said in a quavering voice, “Suuuu-ue? Can I talk to you for a minute?” … Julie would quietly pick up her work and move to the big table at the center of the room. Vacating her chair for whomever was in distress, and giving us some privacy. Then after we’d talked the problem through, I’d say, “Do you need a hug?” And Julie would step in. We laughed and called her seat the “crying chair,” and her the official hugger. It became a department joke. I’m a pretty good listener, I can read most people pretty well, and I like to think I offered thoughtful solutions to problems. But hugs, hugs were just not my forté.
Actually, my point here is not about hugs. But about hygge. I’ll admit I wasn’t a born hugger… however, I do think I was born for hygge. I excel at hygge.

red and orange leaves with fog in the background
Autumn morning fog on the river

I’m behind the curve on writing about this trend, I know. No doubt you’ve heard of hygge, the Danish and Norwegian word pronounced “hoo-guh,” defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” According to Anna Altman in her 2016 article in The New Yorker, “winter is the most hygge time of the year.” Apparently the Danish are masters of hygge, and that’s where the idea spread from a couple of years ago. From Denmark… you know, in Scandinavia, where the cold and dark winter months last a long time, and people need to hunker down and survive, with their sanity intact, until spring. And it just dawned on me that trendy or not… hygge is what happens in Canada every winter.

So, hygge. As a Canadian living in a country with a long, cold, dark winter, what does it mean to me? Hmmm. It might mean sitting around the fire, wearing cosy sweaters and heavy socks, sipping wine, chatting with friends. Or maybe Hubby and I have prepared a candle lit dinner for four, and over the murmur of conversation around the table, we can sometimes hear the wind whipping the snow around outside. Or, muscles tight from a long ski, I might be lounging by the fire in silent contentment with a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, while my significant other snoozes on the sofa. Oh, yeah. I was born to hygge.

frozen pond surrounded by dead grass and trees
We walked by this frozen pond today, but didn’t have our skates with us.
In fact, Hubby’s and my relationship started with a whole lot of hygge. We had our first date in mid-December, on our second we went skiing and had a cosy supper at his house. But I wrote all about our early relationship in this post, so I won’t bore you with it again. Let’s just say that every year the onset of winter, with Christmas approaching, has me all nostalgic.
unpaved country road, lined by autumn fields
Lonely country road in late fall.

Late fall and winter is our best time together, really. Long, late afternoon walks in the crisp air followed by dinner by the fire, maybe watching an episode of Heatbeat, or Inspector Gently, or some other British mystery show. My favourite form of hygge is an afternoon ski, followed by tea, and a good book for me, a nap for Hubby, then a bath, a glass of wine, dinner, another fire. Yep, I’d say we’re the King and Queen of cosy convivial contentment.

sunset across a partially snow-covered field
Time to head home
So Hubby and I have always been fans of hygge.  It’s just that for years and years we didn’t know that there was such a thing as hygge. And now it’s ubiquitous. Everything is about hygge. Or so it seems. In her Guardian article The Hygge Conspiracy Charlotte Higgins examines what she calls a “wildly over-hyped trend” that descended on us in 2016, and prompted “an avalanche of books” to be written analysing the “hygge formula,” which Higgins says was largely manufactured by the people who wanted to sell us these books. Or sell us anything, and everything… “from woolly socks and cashmere cardigans to vegan shepherd’s pie, yoga retreats, even teeny-tiny festive harnesses for dachshunds.” Higgins also looks beyond the rampant consumerism spawned by the trend to what it means in Denmark. Hygge has a darker side, she says. A papering over of troubles, a pulling up the drawbridge against the world kind of side. Have a look at her article for yourself; it’s really interesting.
roaring fire
Hubby has the fire going, must be time for supper.

But here’s the thing. Just because a trend makes people like book sellers, woolly sock manufacturers, and makers of tiny festive harnesses go all crazy to jump on the bandwagon before the ship sails. Ha. How’s that for a perfectly mixed metaphor? Just because the idea of hygge isn’t perfect, even in Denmark, doesn’t mean that parts of it aren’t good. That we all couldn’t learn a lesson on how to slow down, light a few candles, and savour the small things in life.

We don’t really need a book, or an avalanche of books, to tell us how to do that. And we certainly don’t need to worry if the socks we lounge in front of the fire in are designer cashmere.

Not that designer cashmere is a bad thing, she said, remembering her new burgundy Akris sweater.

So yeah, hygge and me we go way, way back. Hugs not so much. Oddly enough, over the years, my hug-aversion seems to have fallen by the wayside. I don’t know when it happened. Maybe when I turned fifty? But I hug at the drop of a hat now. Funny isn’t it?

So how about you folks? Do you live in a place with a long, cold, dark winter? Do you need a hygge?


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21 thoughts on “Do You Need a Hygge?”

  1. Yes, Minnesota winters are cold and dark. I got my Christmas lights ready today as in the 60's and will have a high of 22 tomorrow. I agree that one doesn't need hype to understand this concept, just a life time of cold, dark winters and ways to be cozy and stay sane. We go sledding, ice skating, watch lots of movies and have delicious dinners at home with even more delicious wine!

    1. Sledding or tobogganing… I have such fond memories of whipping down the hill, four of us crammed onto one toboggan, feet in the lap of the kid in front of you, then spilling out onto the snow when we reach the bottom.

  2. Hygee, which my iPad wants to autocorrect to “hygiene,” was meant for me. I’m glad to know the name so I can start to perfect my own version of it. Down here in Missouri, it clearly includes not mowing, not gardening, not shaving my legs, and not worrying about my tan lines.

    I’m going to excel at hygge! 😉

    Ann in Missouri

  3. Yes , we who have proper winters have always enjoyed Hygge & It makes me smile to see it being sold as a new idea . Our summers are spent in the garden or sunroom & the television lies dormant . In winter we move into the sitting room , pile logs on the fire then read or watch TV . A hot drink by the fire after a bracing dog walk is a real pleasure .
    Whereas hugging took a while to catch on here in Yorkshire , we weren’t brought up to hug . It was seen as ‘affected’ , popular with theatricals & Londoners . All different now & I hug friends & relatives with ease . Wish we’d started sooner . Cheek kissing , especially Gallic double kissing is still suspect though 🙂
    Wendy in York

    1. I know… like we needed someone to tell us to tuck into a good book in front of the fire! You're right about hugging looking affected. I remember when teenagers started doing the fake hug thing in the late eighties, I used to roll me eyes. Real hugs are altogether different.

  4. I am rather Hygged-out, to be frank. Not in reality but in all the commerciality – too many cheapskate books and mugs wearing Aran jumpers (bizarre). But I do like winter and the chance to get warm and cosy and stay in reading books or just going to bed early. I think we ignore this at our mental peril. Hugging: depends. I am not a natural hugger except with children and animals and would actually be delighted if we all reverted to handshakes and perhaps the tipping of a top hat with people you don't know very well. Sometimes with people you do. But we are moving onto the concept of lagom here in the UK – the idea of enough. I am betting this won't be received with as much vim and vigour. Except by me…

    1. Tipping our hats…ha… let's bring that back. But not tugging the forelock… not that one:)
      I had to look "lagom" up because I'd never heard of it. What is it with the Scandinavian obsession, do you think?

    2. I think it is because they are pragmatic and rather cool. It appeals to those in chillier climes. Though I am glad we are moving away from being urged to have a Scandi Christmas. I'll stick with my Brit traditions, thanks.

  5. I feel as if I'm doing the opposite of practising Hygge this week — packing up to leave all those comforts of home, although at least I've packed some cashmere and I've got books loaded up in both my reader apps. . . Very interesting to read about that dark backside of hygge — that resonates with me as something I've seen and been bothered by. Once again, all about the balance, I suppose. Hugs to you 😉

    1. I don't know, Frances…I think Stu and I have hygge-d all over the world. I remember one rainy windy day in Tasmania in 2003, we'd rented a cottage with a wood stove, and the lady at the office when we checked in was selling bags of whole leaf tea and homemade shortbread. And since it was too miserable to do any touristy things, we built a fire in the stove, made a pot of tea, and ate cookies and read our books all afternoon.
      Hugs right back at you. Have a wonderful trip.

  6. Certainly I can identify with all your thoughts on hygge. Initially, when this first hit the trend radar I shook my head and wondered what all the fuss was about as we have been doing it for years. Nothing better than a fire, cup of tea and a good book and maybe a whisky later on a cold winter's night. As for hugging, like you I am not a natural hugger. Other than with parents it just wasn't encouraged when growing up.

  7. Great subject Sue and I love your choice of heading/title. I'm definitely a hugger. Grew up in a family where we all gave great hugs …the genuine, loving "bear hug" type. I recently saw my nephew at a family gathering …hadn't seen him in years and his hug left me so emotional, as it was exactly the same as his dad, my brother, would have hugged me. ( my brother died around 20 years ago)
    I agree with all the hype about hygge. I've always had this warm, cosy feeling during Winter … an open fire, flames dancing, candles burning, twinkling lights, hot chocolate or mulled wine, a good book or simply time just to "be" and I'm a happy bunny! 🙂 If it's snowing and a mountain view through the windows then I'm in my happy place.
    Love how you describe your relationship with hubby, I can imagine you both relaxing by the fire,totally in sync…

  8. We have four months of winter,if we were lucky,less than that.
    From the ancient times,when it was dark and cold and fields and gardens were resting,people had to find the way to survive the darkness and be cosy,warm,listening stories around the fire,waiting for spring to arrive.Hence Christmas,Carnival…..
    So,yes,we all have our very similar ways to enjoy, accept and be in harmony with the weather and surrounding-I like to be at home,decorated with the lights,reading a book-I don't have a fireplace and miss the smell of wood-,or watching films. Winter is also perfect time to entertain family and friends or go for a visit. We only don't have the name for all of that 🙂
    So,yes, hygge is a concept we all know and, like Valentines Day here,was imported,mainly for comercial purposes. But,it is also a way "to sell it" to young generations (or to older ones,too :-))
    The Higgins article is interesting and dark-it made me think a lot.
    The hugging thing-I am from the southern parts,and we do hug a lot (with the cheek kissing twice!)-I was not a natural hugger when I was young,but,when in Rome…..:-)
    It was interesting for me,travelling some twenty or thirty years ago,all the northerner countries did not have al fresco dinning or coffee drinking,but lately (as in November in Vienna)there were tables with blankets and heaters everywhere!

    1. When we were first in Australia in 2003, we noticed that when the weather became chilly the restaurants in Melbourne moved heaters into their outdoor patios. We thought what a great idea, and that Canadian restaurants could use the idea to extend their outdoor eating by a couple of months. Now of course they're in a ton of restaurants here.
      And when I was in Bakewell having lunch with Wendy, they had lovely wraps on the chairs which we took advantage of because it was chilly. How lovely to be drinking hot tea outdoors all wrapped up on a chilly day!
      I love how these ideas spread across the globe. Now if we could all work on understanding and accepting each other. Travel helps with that, don't you think?

  9. I live in Colorado and while we certainly have a winter season it is not too unbearable at my elevation. I actually prefer winter weather to summer weather, but I do miss the longer sunlight of summer. Hygge is a nice concept in that it encourages people to look for the joys of cold weather and snow. It sound slike you have many nice favorite thinsg to do where you live in winter.

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