The sun set at 4:53 last night, just as I walked out to the parking lot after work. It was cold outside, and I was tired and hungry. Sure, I could drive home, pull together a makeshift meal and watch television, but I wasn’t in the mood to be alone. I wanted company. I needed to connect and de-stress after a hard day of work. So, I texted a friend to see if she wanted to meet up for dinner and shuffleboard at one of our favorite hang-outs.
Winter is long here in Montana– always five months, sometimes more – and it can be a struggle. So unless we want to slip into seasonal sadness for half the year, we might as well embrace it and look for loveliness against the backdrop of long, dark nights.
I find little bits of winter cheer in undistracted conversations, in walks along the riverfront and over good meals with friends. I find it in watching Pride and Prejudice with my sister, hot apple cider in hand, as we bundle up under blankets in her living room.
I found it downtown last night with my friend. But what is “it”?” It’s the cozy stuff of life.
Well, that’s what the Danes call it – and they should know. They endure long winters, but integrating a concept called “hygge” seems to be working. Denmark is the happiest country according to the United Nations’ World Happiness Report. Sure, they bike to work, eat healthier, enjoy plenty of vacation time and rank high for political and economic stability, but even the country’s tourism industry assumes hygge is a factor.
Pronounced “hoo-gah,” hygge is more of a feeling rather than an activity. It’s the epitome of coffee shop culture – more about the connections made than the latte being sipped. Simply put, hygge is a good social atmosphere and the state of being comfy and cozy, safe and warm. (Etymologically, it’s appropriately linked to the word “hug.”)
Cultivated in Copenhagen, the trend has spread abroad. There are currently a dozen books on hygge available in the English language for online purchase. From cookbooks and “how-tos,” to home décor, adult coloring and a primer on the “Danish way” of parenting, this Scandinavian practice of psychological well-being has taken over the world by (winter) storm.
So, why hygge?
For Christian singles, particularly those of us who live alone, it’s a concept that could help soften the loneliness that can creep in over the holidays when we feel marginalized and overlooked, missing the intimacy and “togetherness” a family provides. We may not have control over certain circumstances in life, our marital status or otherwise, but we can do something to lift our moods as well as tend to others.
Deeper than the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures and creating happy memories, hygge ties into the more complex charge of bringing others in and building relationships so all feel seen, heard, known and loved. It fits perfectly into the Christian narratives of fellowship, hospitality and rest. If we’re intentional, we can do both simultaneously – comforting others with the comfort God has given us and having a little fun in the process. Here are a few applications of the principles of hygge:
We often associate the word “fellowship” with a place, such as the Fellowship Hall in a church basement or hanging out with saved friends. However, the early Christian church devoted themselves to fellowship. It was that significant to them, and it’s still necessary today. We should be working to nurture a deeper sense of community with fellow believers as well as bringing those outside the faith to the table to learn more about Christ and Christian relationships. Hygge provides the opportunity to do just that.
Start a book club or topical Bible study
Each member can read a few chapters on their own and meet up in a home or coffee shop weekly to discuss. Invite folks outside of your typical friend circle to join the group. A good book and meaningful conversation is oh-so-hygge.
Try a new winter sport
From ice skating at a local rink to sledding, snowshoeing or skiing, it’s the perfect time of year to get out in God’s creation. So pull out your parka, rent equipment and explore the outdoors collectively. If you’re in a less snowy environment, make hot beverages and take them with you on “walk and talks” through city parks.
Hygge also embodies the heart of hospitality. It isn’t about lavish entertaining. It’s giving rights to raid your refrigerator and allowing others to kick off their shoes and relax awhile. It’s giving others your attention, no matter who they are, where you are or what you’re doing. As pastor and author Tony Merida writes, “When Jesus says, ‘Come follow me,’ He isn’t calling us to … start a program but to follow His way of life. And that way includes opening up our homes and lives to others.”
Host a Game Night
Build a taco bar by asking each guest to bring one ingredient for a meal together. Offer multiplayer board games, such as Settlers of Catan, or card games like Nertz. You can’t go wrong with games – or guacamole!
Build a snowman or snow fort
Kids love to play outdoors. It’s a great way to invest in little lives, such as your nieces, nephews or friends’ children. I think adults like to play too; we just get stuck sometimes in workhorse mode and forget how much we love to throw snowballs and make ice forts.
Our hectic schedules don’t leave us with much breathing room, and yet we’re desperate for it. It’s easy for singles to always be away from home and on the go, but like our married friends, we need time to rest, cook, clean and make our house a home. We need to slow down, step away from “the captivity of activity” and challenge the cultural norm of busyness that’s unhealthy for us.
Decorate a Christmas tree
Extra hygge points for playing your favorite Christmas movie in the background while trimming the tree. You’ll create a restful, peaceful mood at home for many evenings with dim tree lights. Even though many single people may travel elsewhere for Christmas day, having a tree is a great way to celebrate the season and remember to slow down.
If your typical dinner is a grab-and-go salad bar or drive-thru fast food, this is the perfect time of year to try out family recipes or new ones on Pinterest. Perhaps you could even pray God will direct you to someone in need of hygge, and you could open your home for dinner or cookie baking.
Write out or print a Bible verse about joy, thanksgiving or peace. Use decorative tape to hang it on your refrigerator or on the dashboard of your car. By the end of winter, you’ll have several new passages memorized. Ultimately, our soul finds rest in God.
As Daylight Saving Time comes to an end and with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day approaching, we’d do well to slow down and evaluate the typical holiday hustle of busyness, loud parties, big events and expensive gift-giving.
Saying “yes” to incorporate hygge means deliberately saying “no” elsewhere in our lives. It’s making a choice to participate in meaningful, quality time and relaxing activities with the people we love, and with those who need our love, over the chaos and noise that infiltrate this time of year.
After all, hygge is invitational: It’s asking us to embrace life to the fullest with the time we’ve been given in this world. It’s allowing us to find comfort and peace alongside the people God puts in our paths – even on the cold snowy days, when we leave work well after dark, feeling tired, hungry and just a smidge lonely.
In a year marked by divisiveness, fear and anger, we need a little light to break through the dreariness and darkness of winter. We need to regroup and refocus, relax and rejoice, laugh and be merry and bright. We need a collective hug.
I need it. You need it. We all need a little hygge in our lives.
Copyright 2016 Lindsay Blackburn. All rights reserved.