Our almost-two year old learned a new word last week. She woke up at 7:00 am and pointed outside saying, ‘dark! dark!’ I leaned over her crib, picked her up and quietly told her that she’s a Canadian. ‘Dark,’ ‘cold,’ and ‘snow’ are words that she’ll be using quite a bit over the next few months. Our garden and apiary, which used to be bathed in light, are now under a long shadow this time of year. It’s amazing to think that by the time the ‘shortest’ day of the year comes around, on December 21st, we’ll face an extra eight and a half hours of darkness than we do in June. Welcome to winter in Alberta.
For many, winter is dark on other levels, too. This time of year, for some, means increased isolation from friends, frustration from being confined indoors, and even seasonal depression. Add to that a post-Christmas credit card bill, and all of this cold and gloom might leave you thinking that the next plane to Mexico is the only way to find relief. However researchers from Stanford University have found that not all northern cultures respond negatively to the cold and dark months of winter. In fact, this is the time of year when many thrive.
The Norwegians adopt a word to get them through the winter: ‘koselig.’ It’s a word that we do not have an easy equivalent for, but the closest we could come up with might be, cozy, welcoming, relaxed, tranquil, homey, and friendly. It’s the feeling of a warm fire, hot cocoa, the perfect blanket, and good food. But even more than that, it’s the sense of getting cozy with others. Researchers are discovering that during the darkest months of the year, many Norwegians are creating special times with friends, huddled around a fire, with the lights down low, and they’re finding happiness in the midst of it.
Similarly, the Danes use the word, ‘hygge.’ Pronounced ‘heurgha’ (say it as though you are clearing your throat); the word is equally as significant. Jeppe Trolle Linnet defines hygge as, “safe habitat; the experience of comfort and joy… a caring connotation… behaviour that other people find easy to get along with, one that soothes them and builds trust.” Hygge, as well as a celebration of coziness and togetherness, adds an element of gratitude. Being grateful for these moments and experiences with others, with hot drinks and blazing fires, is what makes this time of year so meaningful. Additionally, ‘hygge’ has become a time when friends resist talking about divisive topics of conversation, or as an opportunity to ‘get-things-done.’ Danes who adopt this posture believe that more ‘stuff’ isn’t needed to find happiness during long, dark days, but instead focus on creating intentional welcoming spaces to gather with others.
All of this might sound a little too fuzzy-touchy-feely for some. But consider that Denmark and Norway are ranked among the happiest countries in the world. It’s believed that a strong focus on our emotional well-being and the importance of friendships, along with a hot cup of tea and a cozy setting might just be what the doctor ordered for the winter-blahs. As a result, many people take great pride in truly embracing the ethos and activity of gathering with others and enjoying some down-time.
As the days grow darker here in Chestermere, and as the cold sets in, think about ways that you might create ‘koselig’ or ‘hygge’ practices in your life and home. Find ways to gather with others, set a warm atmosphere, resist the urge to be productive or entertained, and enjoy the quiet company of others. You may find that the people around you become the light you need to make it through this dark season.