coming together for hygge
The boundaries of our seasons are becoming increasingly blurred by the effects of global warming; summer seems to last longer into the year until we’re suddenly thrown into the midst of the harsh contrast of winter. Perhaps more than ever, much of our habitual lives are becoming shaped by the seasonal changes. We are encouraged to eat seasonally; apples and pumpkins to reflect the burnt hue of the trees, cinnamon and roasted vegetables to warm cooler weather. Similarly, the onset of short days and long nights bring with it the want for seeking comfort indoors, with early nights and dimly lit dinner tables.
Copenhagen is a city that revels in the contrast of seasonal living. At the first sign of warmth, streets and bridges are lined with beer drinkers making the most of the evening sun. In contrast, as the winter draws in, people become insular, retreating to the warm glow of the indoors. This, however, doesn’t mean a forgoing of socialising. In fact quite the opposite. The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is an outlook for which there isn’t a comparable word in the English language. Now defined by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’, the concept inspired an influx of how to books and Pinterest moodboards with advice on how to achieve an element of Danish cosiness.
Food, or rather the experience of eating, is one that is deeply entwined in the concept of ‘hygge’. There is something wholesome about the act of sharing a meal with loved ones in the comfort of your own kitchen that can be missed from an overcrowded restaurant setting. Meals that can be eaten out of warm bowls, cupped with one hand and spooned casually with the other; noodle soups, lentil curries, roasted veggies and a side of warm bread. Perhaps it is the pureness of a home-cooked meal, or the soft music of a much loved playlist and the knowledge that this private space is yours, shared with only the best company. A ‘hyggelig’ environment goes beyond that of candles and a well laid table setting; it is more of the comfort that comes from the much loved company.
My two month visit to the Danish capital happened as the seasons began to change and autumn was slowly creeping in. Having been drawn to the city’s balanced attitude to life and appreciation of slow living, solo travelling meant ‘hygge’ became more about the mindfulness that comes from sitting in cafes, tea and journal in hand. Just out of university, this trip began as a way to fill sketchbooks with observational illustrations and documenting a lifestyle that I wanted to be a part of. As a self-confessed foodie, the pages filled with sketches of table settings, paintings of food, remnants of cosy afternoons in window seats. Opting for spots which offered the opportunity to hide from the blustering winds with vegan apple and cinnamon pies and chai lattes offered a solo insight to the cosiness. Comfort food is not a new concept. But whilst usually associated with heavy pasta dishes or anything laden with cream, the emotional comfort of ‘hygge’ comes from a different kind of warmth, spiced and wholesome. The best example being the popularity of the porridge cafe, Grød which offers toppings of seasonal compotes, nuts and granola. Time spent in a porridge cafe seems apt in a city with a word for such occasion.
As an introvert, solo travel allows for a peaceful kind of immersion into a new city’s culture that is as much about observation as it is exploration. However, there is a comfort that came in the form of old friends visiting and the making of friends with shared affections for daal and porridge. Shared window seats and apple pies in a little yellow cafe, facing on to a rainy square, created a ‘hygge' experience that went beyond that of the plant filled room and cinnamon smell. It was about the comfort of sharing this experience together, something that as a solo traveller is harder to find. This feeling of contentment was woven into the evenings we opted for staying in over alcohol and bars; a shared lack of will power for the plant based ice-cream cookie sandwiches just five minutes around the corner. Whilst I will always be an advocate for solo travel and the confidence and contentment that it can offer, there is a comfort in staying in with a much loved friend that can’t quite be replicated alone. Those few shared days of cinnamon bun fuelled strolls and home-cooked noodle soup dinners offered a better understanding of ‘hygge’ than any cafe experience created with candles and plant filled corners.
Two months of living a Danish life inspired an outlook which is in turn a little more balanced, more appreciative of slowness and an understanding of comfort that goes beyond my choice of breakfast. Despite the moodboards on Pinterest, the movement goes deeper than the aesthetic of your kitchen space to encourage an appreciation of the people in your life that you feel truly comfortable around. Whilst this isn’t to say that I won’t be returning home in search of candle sticks and beautiful ceramics, life will just begin to combine the two with dinner parties and nights in. Perhaps it means recreating the incredible experience that was the chai spiced ice-cream cookie sandwich, eaten contently at the end of a food filled evening with friends and family. And that is something I am completely okay with.