When you’re little, the holiday season can seem wondrously magical—festive music playing everywhere, sparkling decorations, all sorts of wonderful foods and treats, and presents! As you grow older, some of that magic is replaced with obligations and running here and there to this and that, making sure that everything is in order and that everyone is happy. In this hectic state, the holidays are a stressful chore, rather than a magical time to look forward to as autumn wanes.
I recently finished reading Danish author Meik Wiking’s adorable “The Little Book of Hygge,” which notes that Christmas is ranked the most hygge-filled time of the year. Hygge (said hoo-gah) is a Danish concept for coziness, with layers of comfort, joy, and connection. You can think of the practice of hygge as an action antidote to the long, dark, dreariness of northern winters and the seasonal affective disorder it can cause.
Hygge is a feeling—something that you make rather than something that you buy. It can be felt alone or in a small gathering of close friends or family, and it is most often felt in the comforts of home. “Hominess,” the author writes, is one way to describe the feeling of hygge.
The more I learn about this practice, the more I see that Christmas at our farm fits snugly within the description. Whether we knew it or not, we were a hygge holidays family! The beautiful thing about a hygge practice is that it’s not expensive, and you don’t have to go anywhere to create it. You start with the intention of creating a cozy, homey environment, then support bringing that intention to life.
Here are some examples of how our family has infused hygge in the holiday season. Feel free to borrow or adapt any of these ideas to make your holidays extra cozy.
Get outside and enjoy nature, then come inside for a warmup and treat.
Mom was the “let’s go outside!” referee of the family in winter. Whenever anyone was getting grumpy or folks just needed space from each other, it was time to strap on the cross-country skis, snowshoes, or just hit the country lane for a walk. Bundling up for the cold is extra hygge, especially if you have homemade woolens to wear from Grandma or items you’ve made yourself. You come back snowy, chilled, and rosy-cheeked. Our moods would be brightened by the beauty of nature, which is an integral part of hygge practice.
While we were out, Grandma would have set hot chocolate or mulled cider simmering on the stove, ready for out return. And there were ALWAYS cookies or nuts or a cheese ball with crackers for munching to help you refuel after your woodsy adventures.
Another way to infuse the outdoors into your holiday time (especially if the relatives descend) is to share a task where many hands make light work. It was the understanding in our family as far back as I can remember that the Christmas gathering was also the season for splitting and stacking gathered firewood.
The roaring fire in the fieldstone fireplace felt even more special as everyone had contributed to keeping the cozy fire burning. Many a wet mitten were dried on the hearth, and we all took turns sitting on the seat-high stone hearth, warming our backs and enjoying the glow of the coals. Open flame (whether as small as a candle or as grand as a fireplace) is considered essential for creating a hygge-infused environment.
Favorite Family Games
Analog games like board games and card games are the kind to bring out for a hygge holiday. Our season was not complete at the farm without epic games of SORRY, using the old board and wooden pieces from Grandpa’s childhood, or rounds of raucous Mau-Mau (an UNO-like game). After dinner was a favorite time for games, with plenty of laughter and cries of feigned despair and angst to ease the mood.
The holiday season was filled with long, dark evenings or biting winds that kept us inside. These were the times for handcrafts. I can remember each year Mom would find something new for us to learn how to make at the holidays—from folding wax paper stars to stick onto the windows, to macrameing snowflakes for the tree, to fashioning cornhusk dollies.
In the evenings, out would come the knitting, crochet, sewing, or embroidery projects. It was a perfect time to sit near the fire and work quietly, especially if we were making our way through a good book and Mom was reading aloud. “One more chapter!” was my or my sister’s favorite refrain during read-aloud sessions, as we tumbled through literary adventures, painting the pictures of the scenes in our imaginations.
According to Wiking, anything that takes a long time makes it more hygge. This is especially true, he notes, with food. Homemade meals made from scratch that roast or simmer for hours, infusing the home with tasty aromas in anticipation of the meal are essential to the holiday hygge experience. Mulling cider on the stovetop is a sure way to get started, with the floating stick of cinnamon, star anise, and slices of orange.
Meal-making was a family gathering activity as well, with cookie fashioning and baking being one of my favorites. I have an early memory of standing on a step stool so I could reach the counter, adding sprinkles to my favorite almondy spritz cookies before they went into the oven. Of course, I was sure that this would make the cookies taste better, and the philosophy of hygge would agree. When you give something special attention and time, that makes it cozier.
This week, take some time to destress from the holiday rush and make some time for hygge.