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For me, the best things about winter, is Christmas. That’s because everything is cosy, beautiful and sparkly, and we all make the effort to embrace the seasonal spirit. After the Christmas trees have been taken down in the UK, we seem to forget all about that. We go back to work, complain about the cold and wait for public transport to fail at the slightest suggestion of snow. Easter eggs and swimwear are thrust in our faces in every high street from about January 5th in an effort to give us something to look forward to, but we generally feel a bit miserable until spring. We don’t embrace the winter, but there’s really no reason not to. It happens every year. It’s a golden opportunity to reconnect, to rest, to recover and to feel good. Across the channel in the other northern European countries with winters far harsher than our own, they have surviving this time of the year absolutely nailed with the concept of Hygge (pronounced HOO-GAH). That’s what they call it in Danish, in the Netherlands it’s Gezelligheid, in Norway; Koselig, in Germany; Gemutlichkeit, and even across the big pond in Canada, they call it Hominess, but there is no direct translation into English. It can be described as the art of cosiness or a hug without touching. It all comes down to feeling warm, loved and safe.
I first came across the concept a couple of years ago after stumbling across a few pins on Pinterest, while researching Christmas decorating themes (for me this starts in about August – yes really), and I bought myself The Little Book Of Hygge to better understand it.
It turns out that I’ve been thinking in the ways of Hygge most of my life, I just didn’t have a word for it, and now my need for cosiness can be justified, I’m just generally a pretty hygglit (hygge-like) person all over, all year round. So in order to pass on some of this hygge-energy and Danish wisdom to my friends, I decided to host ‘Haggis ‘n’ Hygge’ last Friday night to celebrate Burns night and to spend quality, cosy time with my friends, all according to The Hygge Manifesto:
- Atmosphere: Turn down the lights.
I live in a very modern home, with very bright spotlights dotted all over the ceilings. These are great when you need them, but not very conducive to a cosy atmosphere. I fixed this in a couple of ways. Firstly, fairy lights EVERYWHERE. As someone who is in possession of more sets of fairly lights than I’d care to admit to, this brought me great joy. I put them in wine bottles, I threaded them through fake foliage, I made a tartan wreath to hang from the ceiling that lit up. Overkill? No. Absolutely not. The absence of an open fire in a modern London flat is sad, but if you have Apple TV that streams YouTube, that’s easily fixable, and so I turned our giant TV into a roaring open fire for the evening. The key is to create pools of light around the room, so there were also lots of candles (thank goodness I hoard jam jars!). With the main lights off, candles, fairy lights and small lamps on, it was definitely atmospheric while still being light enough to see each other.
- Presence: Turn off the phones. Be here now.
Its hard for us to peel ourselves away from our phones these days, but to do it for one evening you just need to commit and put the damn thing down. Simple. As. That.
Presence checklist: Turn off your phone or at least put it on silent, check it once or twice if you have to, but don’t let it interfere with good conversation.
- Pleasure: Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy, good wine, good food. Gimme!
Seriously, stop beating yourself up about eating things that make you happy. You know that swim wear already in the shops that I mentioned? You need to ignore it. Its there to ruin your hyggehjornet (hygge – mood). Don’t let profit hungry modern retail do that to you. When you’re having friends over, dot the room with bowls of sweet treats and snacks, refill them often so that no one has to ask for them. If you’ve got time, make cakes, if not, buy cakes, that doesn’t matter, just enjoy them.
Presence checklist: Foods and drinks that make you happy and bring you joy.
- Equality: ‘We’ over ‘Me’. Share the tasks and the airtime.
When I’m hosting, I’m very guilty of doing everything myself and refusing offers of help, but that’s not what Hygge is about. For this party, we shared the work load. My friend Sarah made the neeps and tatties and the dessert, everyone served drinks to each other, we all got stuck in to something, everyone felt included, everyone felt connected.
Equality checklist: have you got jobs for everyone if they ask? It doesn’t matter how small, asking someone to pass you a spoon still counts.
- Gratitude: Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
Slow down, take your time to see, feel and taste everything. Be conscious of your time with your friends. Go back for seconds. Capture the moment as a photo memory in your mind. Appreciate what you have, be grateful, don’t wish it away.
Gratitude Checklist: a gratitude journal will help you to feel more complete, and it makes a great gift for your guests.
- Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
No one likes a big head, but your true friends don’t want to be so insecure that you feel that you have to be. Wait, listen, and find common ground in the conversation, comparing notes on running shoes is a two-way street, banging on about your park run 5k PB time isn’t. Walk the same road, rather than taking the high road, you’ll enjoy the journey much more.
Harmony check list: Look for common ground, look for humour, communicate joy.
- Comfort: Get Comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
Put your high heels and tight clothes away. Pull out your onesie, your favourite PJs, your warmest fluffy socks and refuse to feel scruffy, because scruffiness and comfort are not the same thing. A friend of mine did arrive at my house in a onesie, another confessed he’d been wearing his favourite shirt all week. As for what everyone else wore, I couldn’t tell you, I didn’t notice, no one appeared to be uncomfortable, so I didn’t notice.
- Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
Its pretty hard right now to avoid ‘The B word’, but you’ve got to let it go if you want to Hygge. There are plenty of other (more) interesting things on this plant to talk about. Get to know each other better, discuss passions, interests and plan some group activities to get you through the rest of the winter.
Truce checklist: Try The Hygge Game to get deep conversations started, ask everyone to come with a suggestion of a group activity and throw ideas in the air together.
- Togetherness: Build relationships and narratives. ‘Do you remember the time we…?’
Do all of your friends know each other well? If so, get the photo albums out (if you keep your photos on Facebook or Instagram, print a few out ahead of time using Free Snaps – you only pay the postage). If some of your guests are new to the fold, try a conversation starter game – you might be surprised what you learn!
- Togetherness checklist: Print your photos with Free Snaps.
- Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
Just make it so.
So with the manifesto sorted for Haggis ‘n’ Hygge night, it was all about the other details…
My fiend Sarah usually hosts a Burns Night dinner at her house every year, but this year we teamed up. Sarah and I met when we both volunteered for a food charity in the area where we live, we’re both passionate cooks and so she offered to make the neeps and tatties, the whiskey cream sauce and the cranachan for dessert, I was so happy that it would be a joint effort. There was no way I was making haggis from scratch, there are EXCELLENT haggis for sale in the super markets, and that’s exactly where ours were coming from (Simon Howie Original, four of them…just to be on the safe side. There are vegetarian and gluten free version too!), I could concentrate on the Venison Haunch Slow Roasted in Juniper Thyme Sea Salt, Spinach and Nettle Pesto and Tartiflette (my winter French Alps favourite – even though I hate skiing!) and ham cooked in IrnBru with a whiskey marmalade glaze. I dotted the room with dishes of miniature Daelman’s Stroopwafels, Edinburgh rock, and cheesy oatcake bites (from Lidl, my go to supermarket for themed season foods!).
Thank you spotify! It turns out that Danish folk music sounds pretty similar to Scottish folk music, and it’s really pleasant. I’m really not the greatest at putting playlists together, I don’t really have the patience, so I found a couple of playlists and amalgamated them into this one. But for more modern Nordic/Scandinavian music, try this playlist that my husband put together for me last year, and is still one of my favourites.
The Gift boxes
It is my opinion that a party isn’t a party without a party bag or gift box at the end of it. Last week I saw a post on Instagram from my friend Nuvola, who runs Nuvola Little Bakery in Tooting Market. She’d made some kardemummabullar (Danish cardamom buns), so I ordered some to pick up on Friday, 12 in total. Originally I was going to serve them for dessert, but they are amazing for breakfast so I decided that they’d be better as a ‘morning after’ gift, with some coffee, hot chocolate, and a little copy of the Hygge Manifesto. 😊
We laughed a lot, we ate a lot, we stayed up very late. And the haggis hash for breakfast the next day was a bonus. We’ll be hygge-ing a lot more before this winter is out.