A dear friend texted me recently and taught me a word that I had never heard before but had long needed. She hinted that the word had something to do with the Christmas spirit. Because of her, I went to the library and checked out The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.
Hygge encompasses everything I mean when I say, “Children’s book moment.” It is a Danish word, pronounced “hoo-ga.” The author of the book thinks that the pursuit of hygge just might be the reason the Danes score so high on happiness surveys.
Hygge is not a crowded store. It is not a dirty gas station. It is not a high rise, a traffic jam, or a sterile hospital. (Although, with a little effort, a bit of hygge can be brought anywhere.)
To illustrate, allow me take you back in time to my graduate school days. My classes were void of hygge until I took linguistics. The buildings were old and drab, not old and charming. The walls of the classrooms held no posters, no color, yet they were scraped and dotted with stapler marks. The chairs were hard, and we students were quiet and nervous. But Haj Ross, my linguistics professor, was determined to create (what I now know is) hygge. He kicked off his shoes and taught barefoot. Fridays were declared “bring snacks to share day.” He asked us to write personal essays about why we were taking his class, and we got to know each other. We laughed. We met Haj’s wife. And, in the midst of all of that, we learned so much about linguistics!
There is no perfect translation of hygge in English. It is a mixture of coziness, belonging, safety, light, warmth, tradition, homeyness, . . . , and it is perfected around Christmastime.
Instant hygge for me is when my father begins playing his acoustic guitar, just like he did at the end of my bed when I was a little girl. Instant hygge for you may be something entirely different.
Gardens and gardening provide hygge for me. I’ve had the silly thought that my flowers are sentries, standing guard against the scary. Reading Wiking’s book, I learned that I’m not so far off. Hygge stands strong and beautiful in contrast to the worrisome, difficult, frightening, sad, lonely, and boring. In other words, the sweetness of life is made all the more precious because so much of life isn’t hygge!
Hygge is snuggling on the couch with my children while reading aloud a beautiful story, sipping hot tea while visiting with a friend, having dinner with my husband beside a fireplace. It is listening to David Nevue or Emile Pandolfi while writing, making heart-shaped waffles for my sons on Saturday morning, decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments from years past. Hygge is dinnertime at my mother’s table–abounding in bouquets, flickering candles, and homemade goodness.
The pages of picture books exude hygge! Hygge is wholesome and happy, family and friends, blankets and sunshine. It is the feeling that, for this moment, all is right with the world. What gives you the feeling of hygge?