Posted on November 21, 2015
Getting Hygge with it
It’s so cold in this country
Every road home is long
It’s so cold in this country
You can never get warm
– The North by Stars
We’ve been pretty lucky (but not, like, in the global warming way) that it’s been a pretty mild winter so far. This time last year we were knee-deep in snow, winter gear fully engaged. Instead, I am still wearing my chucks and enjoying (mostly) above-freezing temperatures.
Still, let’s not pretend the inevitable isn’t coming – it is Canada, after all. Despite the fact that it’s winter only (only?!) about 5 months out of the year, those months always seem the longest. Even now, sunset is at 4:30pm and we are still a month away from winter solstice. It’s enough to send anyone spiraling into seasonal affective disorder (she says as she pops vitamin D like candy). What’s a northern hemisphere dweller to do?
Luckily for us, the people of Denmark have already figured it out. If I think I have it rough, they are even more north than I, and have figured out how to manage the long, cold, dark days of winter with a concept they call Hygge (prounounced hoo-ga). Hygge translates somewhat as “coziness” but it really doesn’t have the same nuance in English. Hygge is more of a feeling or attitude. The vistidenmark.com website has an entire page dedicated to the phenomenon and translates it as, “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.” Who can’t get behind that?
When I first discovered the concept of Hygge a few years ago, it resonated with me as I had been doing similar things already and appreciated putting a word to the concept. Especially as the kids got older, I want our home to be a haven, a cozy spot where we can all relax and take refuge after coming in from the outside world.
But what does Hygge have to do with working part-time?
When I am working, things get a lot more stressful and Mr. Tucker and I have to arrange our schedules & manage to get all our chores/responsibilities/activities/hobbies organized or else things fall through the cracks. Part of our stress reduction plan is to not overextend ourselves and to limit our engagements. Still, it’s still a lot more stressful than having one parent at home who manages the household, does the cleaning, and takes care of the administrative work of life – not to mention being home when the kids are sick or need to be ferried to appointments. It also takes the burden off the working parent to have to take time off work or deal with house-related tasks in the evening after work. It’s less stressful for the entire family when I am home, for sure. So one of the ways we try and mitigate that stress is to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere in our home on evenings and weekends.
At the end of the day after we all pile in from the cold & the sun is low on the horizon, it’s time to kick comfort up a notch. We are tired, hungry, and we need to reconnect as a family. Hygge sets the stage for that. There is a reason why hearty soups and thick stews are popular in the winter: they are comforting and warm, and your environment should be to. Here are a few ways in which we have created a warm, inviting home:
– Turn off all electrical devices: our kids aren’t allowed to watch tv during the week because there is homework and music practice to do. Mr. Tucker and I have banned all electronics from our dinner table and are working on banning them from the time the kids get home until they go to bed*.
– Down with harsh lighting: once a year we let the kids buy high-end scented candles that we place on our dinner table and buffet (the high-end ones last a year). We also purchased inexpensive paper star lights in our windows. This also serves as a beacon of comfort: there is nothing like walking up the street in a foot of snow and seeing the stars shining in the windows, welcoming you home.
– More often than not, we have a fire in the fireplace. We are lucky that my father-in-law does yard work and has managed to score us a free supply of wood. I have a family wingback chair placed in front of the fireplace and Mr. Tucker has a more modern version for himself.
– We sit down to dinner as a family and use the time to reconnect. We don’t listen to music and we don’t allow toys or electronics. We give our full attention to the meal & to the conversation. Everyone in our family takes a turn explaining their favourite and least favourite parts of the day.
– After dinner we play games or read books together. The Sprout loves the chess game she invented (whose rules change every day!) or Hi-Ho Cherry-O while the Bean enjoys card games like Go Fish and War. If we aren’t playing games then we are reading books. The kids will put their chairs in front of my wingback chair and I will read them chapters from whatever chapter book we are working on (Currently: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder). Sometimes the kids will read their school library books or assigned reading to me.
– We play music. Ok, this one isn’t necessarily comforting because giving the kids guitars and Djembe’s is not necessarily calm on the ears but the kids enjoy playing with Mr. Tucker’s music stuff and often insist he set up the microphone and record them. I think it’s a small price to pay for us being together instead of having our noses in personal electronics.
– The kids regularly get to have bubble baths & sometimes we let them have one by candlelight. Everyone needs a little pampering every once in awhile, even children.
– Mr. Tucker and I will often sit by the fire at night with a glass of wine or a cup of tea after the kids are in bed. Often we will read books or write but sometimes we will just use the time to talk and reconnect.
Of course like other families we have activities as well. Both kids have Girl Guides in two different locations on Tuesdays, Mr. Tucker has a band he jams with on Wednesdays and I try and hit the YMCA periodically. Just because we have activities doesn’t mean we can’t still have some degree of comfort and reconnection. We still eat dinner together and even when Mr. Tucker is gone, the girls will still have their bubble bath and I will read from our current book. I walk the eldest to her Guiding activity so we get the chance to have a one-on-one conversation and look up at the stars as we use flashlights to guide us to our destination. There are a million little moments every day that we can choose the calmer route, where we can choose to connect with each other.
“Who has the time? I don’t know how you can do this?”
I get this A LOT from people who have seen pictures of our family on social media. The answer to this question is the same for any other question about where people find the time to do X: we prioritize it. Conversely, I have friends who prioritize their favourite tv shows, or going to the gym, or other extracurriculars. There is no “wrong” way to use your time as long as you are happy with the way it is being spent.
As the short days of winter come, I recommend adapting some of the tenets of Hygge into your life. It will be cold and dark no matter what happens, so light a candle, pour yourself a mug of tea and settle down and greet the winter — preferably under a blanket and in front of a fire.