If you think about it, the winter holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa — are essentially light-filled festivals that fortify us for the long, cold months ahead. And yet we manage to screw them up by stressing over all the shopping, the events, the cooking, the relatives, the preparation, the expectation for everything to be the most wonderful time of the year.
Instead of holiday joy, we have holiday struggle — and that's where hygge comes in.
Yes, hygge — that Danish concept everyone's buzzing about this winter. It's pronounced kind of like cougar but with an "H." And it's kind of like coziness, but deeper than that. It's about enjoying simple pleasures — the warmth of friends, curling up with a book, staring out the window at the falling snow.
Somehow, for a lot of people hygge has turned into buying a bunch of sheepskins and oatmeal-colored throws, but what we are not going to do is show you a bunch of stuff you can buy. Hygge is not about that. It's about recognizing the abundance already present in your life and arranging it so you can enjoy it better. It's about feelings of gratitude and simplicity.
So here's a list of tips you can choose from that could give you that feeling. You don't have to do all of them — just pick a couple that resonate most to you.
1. Leave the world behind when you cross your threshold. Have a place where everyone can drop off or hang their things even it that means shoving all the coats in a pile on a closet floor. Change out of your street shoes and into slippers or thick socks. Hell, change into your pajamas. Might as well. Having these little rituals helps you to leave the world outside your door and makes your home feel more like a refuge.
2. Use indirect lighting and candles. Give your overhead lights a break and try using more side table lamps. And all those decorative candles you've set out? Light them in the evening and enjoy their warm glow. (Safely, of course.)
And light that fireplace if you have one, even if only on the weekends.
3. Arrange your living room furniture so people can face each other. Chances are pretty good your family room is arranged with sofas and chairs facing the television, and there's nothing wrong with that. But see if you can turn a chair or two inward to encourage conversation. Keep some pillows or cushions on the floor near the coffee table for someone to plop right down upon. Do what you can to encourage sitting on the ground more. (This is where wearing removing shoes and wearing slippers helps.)
4. Keep at least one board game out. Playing board games is super-hygge — it's low-tech and convivial. So keep at least one game handy, whichever game and in whatever placement works for your family. Give yourselves one fewer excuse for not playing more games together.
5. Make your home smell yummy. We all know that magical feeling you get when you smell something wonderful baking in the oven, but that's not the only way to create a cozy aroma. When I was younger, my mom used to simmer a pot of spices on the wood-burning stove just for the smell. Here are some other easy ideas for giving your home a comforting scent.
6. Go outside. Go for a walk. Have a snowball fight. When you come indoors, make a point of relishing that feeling of the heat coming back to your cheeks.
7. Set the thermostat lower. Wearing fuzzy slippers and cozy socks, bundling up in a throw — you can't do these hygge things if you've got your thermostat cranked up to tropical levels. Isn't that sort of a form of denial, anyway? See if you can tap into the distinct pleasures of a slightly chilly home and enjoy a lower heating bill while you're at it.
8. Start a tea ritual. Or a wine ritual. Whatever works. The idea is, you're taking five or more minutes out to slow down, drink something soothing and reflect. For some of us, that sounds impossible — carve out five minutes when, where?!? I'm wondering that myself right now. But I kind of need it, so I'm pledging to start, today.
9. Eat together as a family more. This is another tough one, including for me and my family. Set a goal for December to eat together around the table a certain number of times a week. If you already do this, yay, you! Keep going. For that matter...
10. Invite people over. Hygge isn't about impressive entertaining. But it is about getting together with your favorite people to eat or drink something really simple. Maybe it's just some dumb slow cooker stew or hot chocolate or popcorn. Don't make it fancy; just make it happen.
11. Keep the holiday cooking and baking plans simpler. We're already hitting you with thousands of holiday recipes on SheKnows because it's so much fun. But we're also showering you with shortcuts and hacks to make it all easier. If you're one of those people who finds yourself baking late into the night or freaking out over the mess and getting the powdered sugar on the cookies just right, maybe set a goal this year to do less. I have done this, and let me tell you: It's amazing. It's so happy-making. You will thank yourself.
12. Enjoy the magic of imperfection. And speaking of getting the powdered sugar right, if you're one of those high-strung perfectionist types — and yes you are, because rule No. 1 of perfectionism is denying you're a perfectionist — try and let go a little. Cultivate an affection for the irregular. Laugh at your mistakes. Imperfection is what connects us all to each other. It's when you stop trying to prove you're better than everyone and accept that you're just as flawed that you open up to the love and spirit of the season. What could be more hygge than that?
These lyrics from recently departed Leonard Cohen's song Anthem have become my holiday season mantra:
"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
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