Hygge (say it like hoo-ga!) is a word that communicates the concept of coziness, togetherness, and light during the dark, bleak midwinter. The Danish/Norwegian term has taken Minnesota by snowstorm, swept across Seattle, and I’m hopeful it will settle in Chicago (with help from yours truly).
“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience,” explained Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. “It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe.”
So what does Minnesota have to do with hygge? While we are not Denmark, there are a lot of families of Scandinavian descent who live in Minnesota. Maybe hygge has been passed down culturally since the Scandinavian immigrants settled here. Maybe we subconsciously practice it because we, like Scandinavia, experience harsh winters.
But does that mean that only Minnesotans or snowy places can practice hygge? Of course not!
Here are eight ways that Minnesotans have been bringing hygge to winter all along — and how you can bring some hygge to your own winter, wherever you are.
- Semi-intentional outdoor lights
- Minnesota “nice”
- Making the best out of cold situations
- Forced positivity
- MN Pride
- Behold: the hot dish
- The sound of snow silence
This is a big one for hygge: it may be miserable outside, but you don’t have to feel the chill in your relationships. Minnesotans will often get together for weekly potlucks with hot, tasty food, followed by games or movies. We recognize that the roaring wind and piling snow drifts make us want to retreat into the coziness of blankets and cushions, and so we figure that we might as well do it together. The snow can’t stop us from visiting each other, and we will trudge through knee-deep powder, hot dish in hand, if that’s what it takes to see each other.
Even if you’re not facing blizzards or whipping winds, get out there and be with your friends. Make a point to reach out to people you love. Call your parents, they miss you.
For the holidays (sometimes as early as before the first frost, which could be October), families put Christmas and winter lights up around their doors, houses, and front yards. They are a beautiful way to ring in the winter festivities, especially as the days get colder and shorter.
But once Christmas is over, do the lights come down? Heck no — it’s too dang cold and snowy! So the bright, twinkling lights stay up on the boughs and house trim. It’s heartwarming to see this extra source of light and leftover holiday spirit still around in February, even as the days get longer. Our path through winter is brightly lit.
Shine a little light on your winter: light candles, hang up string lights, plug in a salt lamp — anything. No snow required.
Meik discusses how, in hygge culture, nobody dominates the conversation or brings up uncomfortable topics. This brings us to typical Minnesotan discourse: our niceness goes beyond pleasant conversation — we also don’t want to offend anyone or make any controversial statements. Some might not like the conflict-avoidance, but if your car gets snowed in and you don’t have a scraper, you can bet your boots that a stranger will help you out.
While other states (or countries, even) might not have the same reputation for kindness, it certainly doesn’t mean that no nice people live there. Leave the ice, snow, and cold to the weather and bring warmth into your relationships and everyday interactions.
When you average three to six feet of snowfall per year and temperatures reach as low as -60°F, what else are you supposed to do besides ski, sled, and build a winter wonderland? The St. Paul Winter Carnival, a winter celebration held every January and February, features outdoor ice sculptures and palaces, parades, an annual winter royal court coronation, and a medallion hunt — yes, adventurers, a hunt! Even after the holiday festivities have died down, Minnesotans still have something jovial to look forward to in the long, cold winter months.
No matter the weather, there’s a way to make the best out of it: take a walk in a wintery landscape, jump in puddles, or watch a storm from inside a cozy bed. Making the best out of it can even mean using a blizzard as an excuse to spend a Saturday inside watching your favorite movie.
Sometimes, I think the only reason that Minnesotans get through the winter (besides physically staying warm) is sheer positivity. Part of that may be because you can still have a nice day at -15° F for the sole reason that it’s sunny. Many Minnesotans will point out that, if not for the wind-chill, it’s actually kind of nice outside.
Here’s another way I see it: I love snow. It’s beautiful, it covers muddy roads, and it’s a blanket that puts the earth to sleep. Heck, I was in an ice-related car accident with a semi-truck and I still love the snow. As a former alpine ski racer, it’s also a factor that greatly decreased my chances of tearing my ACL on the slope. Northerners have been known to say, “Hey, it’s so cold out, my eyelashes are white!” which is actually kinda cool to experience.
At the same time, it’s okay to not feel positive about the weather AT ALL. I lived in Seattle during the winter, and while it’s not as cold or snowy as Minnesota, the damp cold and gloom got to me. But that can be an invitation to find other things to be positive about. For instance, a steaming mug of hot chocolate tastes so much better to me when it’s miserable outside. Blankets feel softer, hats feel warmer. Finding the bright side may take some creativity, but it’s there.
I don’t know a single Minnesotan who is not proud of being Minnesotan. We can complain all we want about the cold (you know, when we’re not being positive), but we’ll be darned if we’re not tough — and we will not hesitate to remind you. We hail from the land of the ice and snow and we’re proud of it, gosh darn it. After taking the full blast of a polar vortex, we can survive anything.
And so can you! Take pride in surviving your winters, no matter how harsh they are — or your summers, if that’s your extreme. Shout it from the rooftops: you have conquered the harshest climate where you live, and you can do it again.
Beyond lutefisk, Minnesotans don’t have particularly strange or foreign food. But one thing we do have that other states don’t — at least, in terms of the name — is hot dish (translation: casserole). Warm from the oven, typically bubbling with cheese over potatoes in a 13-by-9-inch pan, hot dish is the quintessential food group to get a Minnesotan through the winter. It’s hearty, delicious, and there’s always enough to go around.
Hot dish (or casseroles) may not be popular everywhere, but I know that every family has a traditional dish that is a joy to make and brings back happy memories. I think Meik would say that there’s nothing more hygge than feeding your soul as you feed your belly.
This one might take people off guard. Isn’t hygge about being together? Yes and no; it’s also about finding peace in everyday moments, like taking a moment to appreciate the silence of a snow-blanketed world. We have returning birds in the spring, cicadas and insects during the summer, and geese during the fall — this is a rare time of year when you can walk outside and appreciate hearing nothing but the crunch of the snow beneath your boots.
Maybe you live in a climate that doesn’t get snow, or an area that doesn’t get very quiet. That’s okay — just find a quiet space that works for you: your bedroom, a park in the evening, even a church in the off-hours. But more importantly, find a space where you can feel peaceful and contented with your environment and yourself.
Whatever land you hail from, I commend you for toughing it out this winter. I hope you find light, coziness, and togetherness in the months leading to spring. And remember, the days are only getting lighter from here on out.