I have always hated winter. There, I said it. Yes, I know “hate” is a strong word, but unfortunately, it is how I generally feel about this particular season. I was born in Arkansas and moved to St. Louis with my family at age 10, and I’m not sure if it was primarily the fact that my upstairs dormer bedroom was poorly insulated and always cold, or if I disliked trudging through snow to get to school, or if truly 35 degrees was such a shock to my deep South system, that I actually thought winter in St. Louis was bad, but I did.
Once I was old enough to choose, I made several life decisions solely based on the idea of skipping the months of snow and ice. I chose a college in the Southern United States—for several reasons, not the least of which was that it would be warm. I lived in India for three years, where I’m not sure I ever needed to put on a pair of socks, much less a warm coat. So, it came as quite a shock to my system when nine years ago, I fell in love with a man from northern Michigan. (That doesn’t fit my no-cold paradigm!)
Shortly after our marriage, we drove up north from Chicago in a blizzard, with me crying all the way. It snowed from January through May, and was one of the coldest winter’s I’ve ever experienced in my life. I spent most of it depressed and complaining. My dislike of winter has become common knowledge, and I’m a bit ashamed of how vocal my complaints were in the early years. I was cold. (And suffering from severe re-entry shock, but that’s another story.)
Fast forward to today, and it’s 18 degrees Fahrenheit outside with a foot of snow, and I’m doing okay. I can’t say that I love winter, but there are a few things that have made it more bearable for me (one is the fact that we go to Florida every winter for a few weeks–or months!) and that may help you enjoy the season if you have also struggled to embrace it over the years.
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Beat the Winter Blues With “Hygge” and Other Cozy Multicultural Traditions
I often find that looking to other cultures and how they handle things is a wonderful way to get a new perspective on your own situation, and it is no different with the idea of learning to enjoy winter. Several cultures have traditions that center around making this season cozy, warm, and inviting, and on spending the time nurturing family relationships and friendships that otherwise get lost in the hustle and bustle of spring, summer, and fall activity.
The Danish idea of “hygge” (pronounced “hooga”) has gained huge popularity in the past couple of years, but there are other cultures that have similar ideas as well. Here is a rundown of a few of them and details about how to bring these ideas into your own home.
Hygge (hoo-gah): The word is often translated as “cozy” in English, but it really encompasses so much more. The concept involves making intentional and mindful decisions to spend time in restful coziness with friends and family.
Common interpretations of this mean lighting candles, snuggling up in warm blankets, reading books by the fire, drinking yummy hot tea or hot chocolate, and noshing on something delicious. Inviting friends over for restful teatimes or delicious dinners by candlelight, or just tucking in with your little ones for an evening at home are all ways to get in the spirit of hygge.
Enjoying the season and making the most of the quiet is at the center of this concept that Danes embrace wholeheartedly during colder months—which can be a large majority of the year in Denmark. Countless websites and articles offer detailed descriptions of how best to make this practice a part of your life. And there are multiple ways to inspire the hygee spirit at home.
From the Netherlands
Gezelligheid (geh-zay-lyg-hide): This Dutch word also means cozy, fun, convivial, or a nice atmosphere. The Gezelligheid concept is very similar to higgle, and includes “showing belonging, time spent with loved ones, the fact of seeing a friend after a long absence, or the general togetherness that gives people a warm feeling”
Amanda van Mulligen shares how the Dutch embrace winter with the idea of Gezelligheid on her blog, Life with a Double Buggy. “Winter time brings out a special kind of gezelligheid in the Dutch. it differs from the gezelligheid you experience in the summer when the Dutch are camped out on beach cafe terraces sipping iets lekkers watching the sun set. Winter gezelligheid is something much warmer and copier. It’s about candlelight and little lamps giving off warm, orange subdued light to block our the dark, cold evenings outside the living room window. It’s about families around the dining table. You’ll know exactly what I mean if you take an evening walk around your neighborhood and take a peek through the undressed windows”
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Gemuetlichkeit: The German word for the coziness concept is also difficult to translate into English. It is something one feels when they step into the living room of a friend and find a lit candle and a spread of beautifully displayed treats for an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) time.
It is the feeling of warmth one feels after an evening dinner where everyone lingers around the table just a little longer than usual. It is lots of candles and endless pots of tea, and delightful conversation, and classical music playing in the background. Creating a gemuetlich atmosphere is very important to Germans, something in which they take special care. My in-laws lived in Germany for over 20 years, and they still do a wonderful job of creating coziness in their home in the U.S.
Mys: The Swedes also have this concept of intentional coziness and comfort. They celebrate it in different ways year round, and actually they make a point to practice Mys every Friday. It is called Fredagsmys, and Lisa Ferland explains it well on her blog Life is Good:
“Swedes love to throw to words together, like fredag (Friday) and mys (coziness) to create a new word. It translates into, “Cozy Friday.” The concept is that at the end of a busy work week, you just want to relax and unwind.
Swedes usually celebrate fredagsmys by buying and eating a ton of chips, candy and other junk food snacks while watching a fun movie with the family… Having survived numerous cold and ark winters in Sweden, i can attest to how fredagsmys became so popular. The lighting of candles around the house, snuggling into warm blankets and eating a metric ton of chips would make me feel all warm and cozy too.”
Of course, there are times when candles and coziness won’t (and don’t) solve the world’s problems. There are times when you just don’t feel like hygge, and nothing is going to change that. But most of the time, a little bit of mindfulness, a little extra intention, a little savoring of the moment, can go a long way to helping you find joy in the midst of the winter doldrums.
For me, realizing that I have permission to cuddle up, tuck in, stay put, and rest and relax have helped me to not be so restless with the fact that we aren’t as active during the winter as we are the rest of the year. My winters now are relatively short (remember our annual trip to Florida?), and I think I’ve been able to lessen my complaining on the subject of snow and negative temperatures (although talking about the weather is somewhat of a pastime here in northern Michigan).
Winter really doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I’m not sure about all of the reasons for that, but I’m sure that embracing Getmuetlichkeit and Hygge have helped. Perhaps, if you are a winter hater like I
am was, you can now say with me “I may hate winter, but I certainly don’t hate hygge.”