This article was originally printed in Whidbey Life Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2015/2016 print issue.
BY LES MCCARTHY
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
January 13, 2016
It’s that time of year again— when one season slides into the next. A hint of crispness in the air and the damp earthiness of the woods tell us things are changing—and that it’s time to snuggle in.
Sensing the passing of the seasonal baton and the shortening of the days, we pull on our fleece, light our fires and peruse cookbooks rather than gardening manuals. Mom Nature shows off her colored and varied landscapes, frost whitens the pumpkins, and as our days grow grayer, wet and mizzly…our thoughts turn to all things cozy.
Hygge, pronounced (HOO-guh), is an old Danish concept meaning “coziness.” Be careful saying it in a group of people unfamiliar with the term, as they might think you need the Heimlich Maneuver.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to land in Copenhagen during the holiday season and found the city enchanting; torchlight reflected on the canals turned them into flowing ribbons of bronze glitter. On plazas and restaurant patios, friends and families gathered, day and night, in the cold—bundled in scarves, furs and blankets, holding mugs of steaming satisfaction. Their laughter tinkled and their breath hung in frosted puffs in the frigid air. Those scenes are quintessential Danish hygge—where even in the cold, warmth abides.
In Holland, the Dutch use the word gezellig (heh-SELL-ick). It, too, embodies the concept of coziness and warmth, and like the Danish word, a precise and accurate translation to English is somewhat elusive. Gezellig encompasses everything from cozy to friendly to relaxing and involves solitary activities as well as gatherings with friends and loved ones.
When we think cozy, the creature comforts readily come to mind: a marshmallow-soft comforter, a crackling fire, fuzzy socks; add in a hot toddy and a snoring pet and you can envision the scene. Snug as a bug in a rug.
But it’s just not the tangible things that make up those Old World concepts and all things cozy. Woven in are the emotional intangibles—shared conversation, friendship, security and shelter—that when blended together result in that “everything’s good” feeling of comfort and coziness.
So, here on the island when the rains begin and twilight arrives shortly after lunch (and summer is a distant memory or far-off dream), point your internal compass to the north. We’ve got plenty of long, dark, wet days (dare I say months) ahead, and if the Danes and the Dutch can heartily embrace coziness to help them through their winters, we can, too!
These soggy months offer a well-timed respite for rejuvenating hibernation, exploration or doing things you didn’t have time for until now. Go it alone or in a friendly gathering. (Perhaps a lovely balance of both.) Snuggle in and use some of our ideas and conjure up some of your own. Let your mind wander and flow like those canals so far away, and you’ll soon be on your way to making this season your coziest yet.
“Gather” is a comforting word; gather together even more so. We gather together to discuss, to worship, to plan, to eat, to laugh, to console. We gather together with candlelight to celebrate the passing of years, the sharing of a holiday tradition or as illumination after a wind storm. Gathering together is usually a cozy thing. So…gather!
Solitude, however, should not be dismissed. A bit of bear-like slumber and lingering in an overstuffed armchair in a quiet corner with a soft throw and a stack of books nearby (old favorites or ones you have been meaning to read) is a delightful way to wile away a few (dozen) gray and wet days.
If you need real books (it’s hard to cozy up to an electronic device!), put on your galoshes and head out to one of our many local bookstores or libraries. Pick up and read “Wind in the Willows” (aloud to a child while inside a blanket fort) and try to decide whose home is cozier, Badger’s or Toad’s.
Autumn and winter are great cooking months—so many seasonal fruits and root vegetables. What’s cozier than a bubbling pot of stew or soup, chili or chowder? Cook up something slow and soul-satisfying. Put up some preserves, bake some cookies, braise. Let the warmth and aroma scent your home. Share your bounty with a neighbor. (If cooking isn’t your “thing,” perhaps taking a cooking class, getting a new piece of cookware or trying out a new recipe may help.)
Up and down the British Isles, one wouldn’t dream of being cosy without tea. Perhaps it’s time to learn how to make the perfect pot and enjoy the pleasant tradition of afternoon tea (complete with scones, nibbles and a tea cozy). Tea, sipped alone or shared, is a sure way to beat the winter blues.
If you live here, you know that Northwesterners aren’t stopped by any amount of rain—after all, it’s only water—so there’s no reason not to pull on your rain gear, grab some friends and share some outdoor adventure; find out what hygge is all about.
Weather the weather and walk the beaches and forests of our captivating island. Photograph the bare branches and the scuttling clouds. Savor this time of winter-rest and soft, seasonal light. Linger over conversation and coffee (or a meal) in one of our many restaurants or coffee shops (some have fireplaces—all the better). Travel the art, wine and farm trails; follow a guide or follow your heart. Visit one of our fiber farms or mills and kiss an alpaca. Take a tour, take a class, take each other, take your time. Share, laugh and warm your soul. Cozy in.
Just too gray and mizzly for your cozy meter? Duck inside and catch a matinee, spend an afternoon in one of our island museums or indulge in a bit of retail therapy. And on those days when you just don’t want to leave the comforts of home, light the fire and spend the afternoon with a board game, a good book or an old movie. Make a big bowl of popcorn, pour some cocoa, and you’ve got the start of a snug-fest.
Share your life lessons, talents and gifts. Learn (or teach) how to knit, draw or dance. Take a wreath-making class, make or paint some pottery, join a book club, donate your time. There are enough studios and events on this island to keep you busy for several fall and winter seasons, and they are all guaranteed to give you the coziest of feelings.
Whatever you do when the days are short and the evenings and nights are long—relax and find your inner cozy. Leave home and venture forth and then experience the wonderment of returning home again—your windows aglow in the gathering dusk—to hygge and gezillig and whatever coziness awaits you inside. Enjoy the season and delight in all things cozy.
Image at top: Cook up coziness…and dinner (photo by Gina O. Burrill, courtesy of Cook on Clay)
Les McCarthy is an author, entrepreneur and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition & Health for the Family” calendars. She is now a full-fledged islander and loves every moment of life on this special rock. She joyfully tends to her geriatric fur factory but is rethinking the cuteness of the local deer and deck slugs.
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