The way of hygge
My guide to how to survive, nay, celebrate winter.
Do I need to explain hygge to you? Really? I promise you, give it a couple more weeks into the season and you won't be able to move for, possibly over-simplified, wall to wall hygge. it's exactly what lifestyle journalists love. But scoff not, you cynical Brit you. After a working boiler, know that it's your most useful armament in the face of the colder months. It's a change of perception. It's about good things. It works. Come February you'll be clinging to it, trust me. Best to start now.
A very brief synopsis is that it is the Danish/Swedish/Norwegian concept (other Scandinavian versions are probably available and the origins seem somewhat contested) of cosiness (very rough translation). If you live in a country with that many dark hours, you really need a reliable survival methodology. Whilst it also applies in summer, it's most usefully about learning to appreciate the particular pleasures that winter can bring, the joy of now, rugs, cosy fires, friends and celebratory comfort food. All at once. Whoopee.
If you've got a hankering to learn about hygge and Scandinavian culture properly my friend Signe has written a book on it and talks very sensibly about what makes it tick being a quality of equality and hardiness as well as about buns (although they count too). I recommend it (bibliography below). But meanwhile, here's my take on it all.
So this is my very British, and tried and tested experience of hygge, that I'm calling pygge hygge. And before anyone starts, we're pronouncing it Pie-gah hoo-gah. Just because we can.
If you live in North Norfolk you practically count as Scandinavian (hurrah!). Our weather and geese come from over there, we get the Northern Lights and we've got all the seals. So, I've been trying to celebrate my winter experience for several years, always with an eye over the North Sea to how they do it, and last year, after reading A Year Of Living Danishly (funny and interesting), started putting pygge hygge into practice, so these are my very British winter tips.
Go for a walk.
- Honestly, pulling on scarves and boots, getting out there every day, whatever the weather, noticing the things that are around, especially nature, will get the endorphins pumping and you'll feel all the better for it. Endorphins are your friend. And a brisk walk and stomp through puddles (possibly with an emergency pork pie in your pocket) is the perfect prequel to a treat (possibly a second pork pie). See Fika below.
Get cosy, darling
You need to stay warm, you'll never be happy if not. This is the excuse you've needed to Scandi your world up. Go for it.
- Modestly (or immodestly) invest in blankets and throws. Make the place pretty. Living in an 18th century cottage in North Norfolk that isn't a stranger to a period draught or two, I did already have a few woollen blankets to hand.
- This. I have a grey, cashmere covered, yard-long hot water bottle which is the best thing ever. I put it on my Christmas list a couple of years ago and, expecting the fleece version, got lucky. I adore it. The cashmere one is trés expensive, but there are cheaper options, have a google. You only put a relatively small amount of hot water in (less than a kettle full) and the squidginess means you can safely have bits of it wrapped around you.
- Have a ritual. I have a grey reindeer skin, it's beautiful. Mine came from BTOI at Holkham, again a Christmas present (thanks Charlotte for hinting at OH). It comes downstairs in autumn and that announces the start of pygge hygge.
- Start decorating the house with vases of twigs and berries. Big bowls of oranges.
- Light the fire and get the lighting right in the room. Lamps are good.
- Have candles. I'll refrain from reporting the zillions of candles per capita that the Danes get through because every else will be telling you about it, but they do look lovely. Just keep an eye on them.
Get your right brain in gear
This was something I really focused on last year, largely prompted by my friend Emma (Silverpebble2 on Instagram and @silverpebble on Twitter). Colours turn your dolphins on. Sorry, that's your endorphins. Laughing is good for you too. But there seems to be something special about creating something that adds to that sense of well-being.
- Draw. This is my thing. I try to put a mark on paper every day, I don't beat myself up if I don't succeed, but it's something to look forward to.
- Knit. Or crochet. Or sew. it's all about the concentration and colours.
- Make something, Craft is a lot less, you know, muesli these days. There are a million youtube videos out there to help you, or better still, treat yourself to a course.
- Read. Switch the blooming tele off for a while.
Not that kind. And it's all too easy to anaesthetise at home with alcohol, whilst we're talking about it. Although heading down the pub for a beer and a socialise (plus a fine pork pie if your pub is sensible enough to serve them) is a fabulously British version of hygge. Support your pub in winter I say.
No, I mean Vitamin D. I'm a great believer in eating well, all the colours, masses of seasonal fruit and veg, (yes we're coming to Fika, I know that's why you're here really) but here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially with all the scarves and mittens, we just do struggle to get access to enough sunshine to generate Vitamin D, so when the reindeer skin comes downstairs I start trying to remember to take a daily Vitamin D supplement. Plus any excuse to eat a herring or two is good, the silver darlings are a mine of Vitamin D, and oh so Scandi, but joyfully British too.
See friends (and yes I mean in person, you social media fiends) and break bread (or indeed pie). It doesn't need to be a huge stressful production. One of the nicest things I did last winter was an indoor picnic with other small producer friends at Norfolk Gin Jonthan's house in January. We all took a few simple things to eat, a sort of Norfolk smorgasbord, put them on the kitchen table, drank a little excellent gin and tea and had a perfectly lovely afternoon.
Should you fancy replicating it we can send pies all over the country you know.
Or just drag people in for supper. Nothing fancy, pop candles and flowers on the table and they'll really be thrilled with a stew, a bowl of buttery potatoes, greens and cheese and fruit afterwards. Well, I would.
Fika. Afternoon Fika.
Finally to Fika. Fika is the Swedish practice of taking coffee, often with something sweet to eat as a social break from work in the day. Another thing (caffiene plus scheduled breaks) that makes the Scandinavians so very happy. I was all about taking this as an excuse to eat cake on a daily basis, but when I read A Year of Living Danishly and discovered author Helen Russell had embarked on her integration with such similar gusto she had to be instructed that even Danes don't eat Danish pastries every single day. Hey ho.
But on consideration, I thought the British have an inherited memory that makes for the perfect Fika equivalent. High tea.
As Signe says, life is too short to live in a state of puritanical abstinence, but for our British Pygge Hygge, I don't mean the sort of tea that gets served in Claridges, more an afternoon cup of tea, in front of the fire, with something to eat, or at the table, presented prettily. Make it a little ritual. Cake sometimes, toast sometimes, but also a very good opportunity for a pork pie.
And there we can help you. Either one of our many stockists can provide you with pies or we can send you a box of fine pork pies, through the post, to enjoy socially at work or at home. As we like to call it, a very British Pygge Hygge.
Enjoy. Celebrate. Embrace the opportunities of the dark days.
Pies by post - our delicious delivered pork pies
How to Hygge - Signe Johansen
The Year of Living Danishly - Helen Russell
Yulu yard long hot water bottle
Photos - some by me and some (the good ones) by Emma Mitchell. All copyright.
Good for your right brain courses