This year I felt the spirit of the holidays more than I have in a long time. Running on snowy roads lit by Christmas lights on houses, watching Christmas music videos that my housemate loves, hanging up red and sparkly decorations in our kitchen and living room, being happily surprised by my housemate decorating our tree with fancy ribbon-lace bows she made herself, and more. These all added to my Christmas spirit, but as time went on, I realized that most of all, it was the people I spent that time with. In the weeks prior to Christmas, friends and family brought the Christmas spirit upon me. Friends from Sanctuary London were there to welcome me, run with me, and enjoy an amazing turkey dinner together with 140 people. Housemates in my community house where I live baked pies and cookies with me, my neighbours joined us to decorate gingerbread, and my parents set up a welcoming Christmas space in their home and joined me for a beautiful Christmas Eve service in which we heard that Silent Night wasn’t so silent after all.
Because how can a ‘Silent Night’ be silent when you have meaningful social connections all around you? And as I was contemplating what made this year feel more engaging of my heart than other years, I realized it was mostly relationship. And at the same time that I was thinking about how caring relationships bring peace and steadiness of the heart, I was also reading about what so many people are writing about when studying happiness from the Dutch perspective: Hygge (pronounced heu-gah) which is essentially a kind of Nordic zen, and also known to come from a Danish word meaning to comfort, embrace, invite warm connection, and encourage well being.
Hygge has become a popular word in conversation, and is taking on many new twists and turns in our concepts of space. When I first heard about Hygge, it was explained to me as a way of decorating your space by making it warm and cozy and naturally relaxing. Paint colours, wood choices, cushions and blankets, scents like vanilla, and accessories all make a difference of bringing the Danish lifestyle of cozy and good-feeling Hygge. But lately I’ve been thinking more about ‘hygge for the heart’. Not just a physical place of comfort, but a heart of comfort created through hygge moments of relationship.
So how do we get there? So many of us feel alone, but we live among people and community all the time. Every day we are around people. We just don’t always manage to reach a place of connection that helps us feel the love and belonging we are all searching for: in other words, thinking of Hygge in a more socially-oriented way–a spontaneously flowing social togetherness. A special feeling or a cherished or charming moment. Many people distill Hygge down to a feeling of lighting up the heart and spirit.
Hygge is a great place to start, and here I offer you my 8 top suggestions for Hygge of the heart as you build your relationships over the holidays and into 2018:
1. Food, comfort, and relationship go hand in hand. There is something about the smell of food cooking, the warm stove, sound of soup simmering, hands close together in the making of meals with others, smell of cake in the oven, warm socks, cat on your lap, and the sitting around the candlelit table eating, talking, and laughing, that creates Hygge in relationship like nothing else can. Hygge: a place of connection of the heart. Guests will leave remember the uniting feeling of love, social connection, and delicious food. Maybe you even share your recipe from the night before your guests leave, so they can make it for someone else and pass on the love. As long as we can remember, food has been a socially uniting symbol–a place of gathering around–and it certainly still is today.
2. A hot cup of your favourite tea or coffee or hot chocolate drink always creates a warm and cozy atmosphere that invites conversation and sharing stories. Hygge requires us to slow down and cherish the present moment. Maybe in solitude in your backyard or living room, or maybe in your favourite cafe with a friend, or maybe in a warm chalet after skiing, or to warm up after winter running with your running group. At Sanctuary, sometime after we come back from running in the chill air, we sit around a guitar and sing songs and drink hot tea. Maybe ask someone why they love the snow, or what their favourite winter memory is. You’ll be surprised how many things they will tell you while their eyes light up. Children especially.
3. Baking together has become relationships Hygge for me. This year, I baked pumpkin pie and apple pie with my housemates, as well as decorating gingerbread cookies together with our neighbours. It became a warm and delicious activity that we could do together, and at the same time, we learned new skills and found recipes together that we loved. Creating shared memories. We also built beautiful social connections with others over baked foods, either by surprising them at them at their door, or inviting them over for pie and cookies and tea. Often we think of baking as a food prep activity, but for me it’s recently become more social than anything else. Sharing your recipes also helps. This year I received recipes from a friend for sugar cookies, gingerbread, and apple pies, and it was a lovely way to carry on the tradition of baking with and for others.
4. Weather is the biggest Hygge for me: keeping the curtains wide open, and sometimes the window a crack even in winter, to see and smell the falling rain or snow, and to feel physically and mentally connected to the weather. And isn’t the weather a social activity in Canada? Have you ever noticed how many people comment on the weather in conversation, almost as a greeting to one another? And how many gather to skate, snowshoe, go sledding, and so much more. There is something alive in the air, and whether it’s warm or cold or rainy or snowy, nostalgia and memories all the way back to our first years on earth are all triggered by weather. And we can share those together and feel alive in them.
5. A cozy crackling fire in your backyard (yes, even and especially in the snow) is the best way to share time with friends and family, or in your living room fireplace with a wooden or stone mantel, or even if you don’t have a fireplace at all, turn on the Yuletide Fireplace channel. I have it going right now, listening to it snap and crackle, watching flames and sparks, and feeling warmer by the minute. (Actually warmer, the brain is an interesting thing!) A friend of mine told me his family has a tradition where they spend Christmas Eve enjoying a bonfire in the backyard together. What could be better for bonding than sitting together around warm flames with a cup of hot cocoa and your friends and family members all around? And snow falling down from the sky.
6. Reading definitely adds Hygge of the heart and imagination during the holidays. Most people think of reading as a solitary activity. And sure, for introverted people like me, that’s a real treat. But what about sharing a book with a friend and talking about it? Maybe you have hobby or skill or faith that you share? Or how about creating your own book club with friends in your living room, or joining one at the local library? Alone activities can have beautiful social components too. Like inviting friends over with their favourite book and reading in front of the fire.
7. Textiles offer much Hygge during the holidays in how they make us feel relaxed and comfortable, warm and at home. Knitting has been something I can do in the company of others, and has been found to have positive effects on the brain that bring good feelings and lower stress. Or, curl up with your tea, softest blanket you can find, and favourite movie. My cat Keko is very smart. She is a daring hunter brave enough to go belly-high in snow in our backyard. But the minute I throw a blanket over my lap, she jumps on and curls up. Invite friends and watch a movie together in silence, something dramatic or sad, or watch a favourite movie you’ve seen a hundred times and talk and laugh the whole way through. I have a friend with whom I watch The Holiday each year. It brings a lovely anticipation of friendship, tradition, and laughter.
8. Finally enjoy some music! Turn it on when you are rising in the morning, or listen to background music during supper, or in the evening when you are relaxing and catching up on a blog like me. Especially during the holidays, music brings back so many memories and connections to others we have spent time with. Sometimes sorrow as well, but sorrow and joy are closely related. And what better than to share your favourite songs with a friend to encourage them or cheer them up?
So I hope you get your ‘Hygge for the heart’ this season and spread it around this coming year. Let relationships be strengthened through the intentional warmth and charming cheerfulness you bring to your friendships, coworkers, and family.
And, I wish you a very merry and happy Hygge for the heart and holidays!