Rebecca Titus ’11
This past week, my little Danish town experienced its highest snowfall and lowest temperatures in 180 years. Helsingor is frozen – a true winter wonderland in which the sky is completely clear but black as ink, the air is still and quiet, and the icy landscape is blue, silver and white. From my seaside window, I can see the dark landmass of Sweden covered in the same frost. It is the kind of cold that slows even the pulse of Copenhagen. Thankfully, Danes know how to compensate for the bitter conditions. It is a concept – nej, a force! – by the name of hygge that keeps up morale during harsh weather. Many translate the word into English as “coziness,” but it requires additional explanation.
Hygge is a phenomenon of excess. It recognizes the small miracles of winter: candlelight, blankets, wine, and good company. For example, I have the pleasure of living with Danes who celebrate each day of December by opening a small gift that is hung from the staircase by gold ribbon. Our small but festive exchanges with tea and cheese are hyggelit. In Copenhagen, evidence of hygge is everywhere: there are quaint Christmas markets selling bright scarves, carnival stands full of churros and sausage, and silver wreaths glittering above the city’s main walking street. While there is certainly a communal feeling of distaste for cold toes and late trains, there is also a sense of gratitude born of contrast; warm, indulgent nights in with family and friends serve as relief from the dark, severe cold. In this way, those relaxing nights are even more precious to us, more hyggelit.
These days when the sun sets and I depart on the northbound regional train to Helsingor, I imagine that each person in the car with me is daydreaming of sipping warm soup or playing spades by the woodstove. Any variation on this theme can contain hygge, as long as it renders the hyggelit party happy, comfortable and appreciative. It is a beautiful concept that I intend to smuggle back to the U.S. in the form of alpaca woolen socks, Danish marzipan and elegant little bundles of candles.