The Danish approach to living is all about homeliness, simplicity, and companionship, writes Carol O’Callaghan, who unwittingly found herself in a hyggekrog as she browsed a book on the subject.
Every so often a new buzz word pops up in interior design. This year it’s ‘hygge’, a time-honoured, Danish approach to winter living, the details of which will be familiar to anyone who enjoys a cosy evening in front of the fire.
Pronounced hoo-gah, and sometimes heur-gah, hygge doesn’t have a direct translation into English. The nearest would be the word cosy, but that’s not sufficiently encompassing, as hygge is also about warm homeliness, simplicity, and companionship.
It advocates candlelight, indulgence in hot chocolate, coffee, and biscuits shedding crumbs down the back of the sofa, as you sit in front of an open fire in your hyggesocker, that is, your warmest woolly socks.
Hygge never, ever, involves a smartphone or the internet, but if you can’t resist browsing, do it among the hygge-related books now filling the shelves of any bookshop interiors section. I picked up a dinky little read recently, which I flicked though one chilly Saturday afternoon.
The Little Book of Hygge, The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking of The Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, is the antithesis of the glut of faddy books on clean eating and immaculate housekeeping.
By coincidence, it seems I had unwittingly hygge’d myself that same Saturday, as I settled down to read, having fed a hungry blaze in my fireplace with logs culled from an obliging eucalyptus tree, and by stretching myself prone on the sofa, with a pot of tea.
That evening, after I set a few lamps aglow, I was, according to Wiking, in something called hyggekrog, which is a cosy, comfortable hygge nook, like a window seat besieged with cushions, or being swathed in a cosy blanket, (as I had done, compliments of an adventurous friend who acquired the cuddlesome alpaca shawl, while hiking around Peru).
My hyggekrog state was enhanced by watching the wholesome, and, therefore, hygge, Strictly Come Dancing.
All I was short was a re-run of Borgen with its Scandinavian furniture and lighting porn, and my accidental hygge environment would have been complete.
Indeed, it would have been sufficient to release a sustaining shot of oxytocin to put me in hygge nirvana.
Food is hygge too, according to Wiking, and is entertaining in a simple way. Effort is definitely not hygge, so no spending two days making a feast and poring over a table plan.
Books on display is hygge, as is nature brought into the house in the form of twigs and branches, which can then be decorated for Christmas.
Light is absolutely essential to create the hygge environment, and is the first item mentioned in Wiking’s book, with candles being the preferred source, resulting in the Danes using almost twice as many as the next most prolific candle buyers, the Austrians.
Hot drinks are another essential element, particularly consoling beverages, such as coffee and hot chocolate, as are activities at other times of the year, such as jam-making and picking elderflowers for cordial, a past time popular in Ireland too.
You see, we’re already hygge and we didn’t know it. I reckon Irish stew is hygge, but parfait in a sugar cage is not.
In fact, an Irish Christmas Day would be hygge if we didn’t have to work at dinner preparations, followed by two hours of washing up, and, instead, sat by the fire eating simple stuff and playing Monopoly.
St Stephen’s Day, on the other hand, is most definitely hygge, as we allow ourselves a complete day of cosy wholesome relaxation, nibbling on cold cuts of spiced beef and ham.
Indeed, hygge could be as Irish as it is Danish, if we didn’t guilt ourselves into thinking we need to don lycra and go for a run instead of zipping into a onesie and welding ourselves to the sofa.
The Danes are believed to be the world’s happiest nation and, as previously mentioned, have The Happiness Institute, which studies the topic, so they’re clearly doing something right.
If this book is to be believed, hygge is central to it, with all its guilt-free cosiness that promotes comfortable slippers and open fires, accompanied by a hot chocolate encouraging us to get hygge with it.
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