ELIZABETH WELSH reflects on... …’Hygge’

By the time this edition of Waymark reaches you, the clocks will have turned back an hour, giving us more light in the mornings, and a longer stretch of darkness in the evenings. Perhaps you’ve already come across the Danish word ‘hygge’: an apparently untranslatable concept, ubiquitous in Danish culture, and central to their national identity. One Scandinavian writer, Bronte Aurell, describes hygge as:

An elevated state of cosiness. Often with dimmed light (although not always – you can still hygge in the park or garden on a sunny day). Think people close to you, woolly socks, fire place, candlelight.

According to the European Candle Association, Danes burn more candles per person than anywhere else in Europe. Denmark is also, apparently, the happiest country in Europe.

Hygge is found in everyday simplicity. Justin Parkinson, writing for the BBC, describes hygge as ‘eating home-made cinnamon pastries. Watching TV under a duvet. Tea served in a china set. Family get-togethers at Christmas.’ She adds that, ‘there isn't so much enforced deprivation in Denmark. Instead you're kinder to yourselves and so each other.’ As Meik Wiking, a Danish writer, puts it: ‘sweets are hyggelige. Cake is hyggeligt. Coffee or hot chocolate are hyggeligt, too. Carrot sticks, not so much.’

But what can hygge have to do with Unitarian communities? Beyond pastries, cakes and candles, Louisa Thomsen Brits, a half-Danish half English writer, summarises that hygge is:

The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive. To create well-being, connection and warmth. A feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other. Celebrating the everyday.

Hygge, she continues, ‘is a kind of enchantment – a way of stirring the senses, the heart and the imagination, of acknowledging the sacred in the secular – a way of giving something ordinary a special context, spirit and warmth, taking time to make it extraordinary.’

In this way, Hygge resonates with some of our community practices, whether that’s lighting a candle, singing a song, or gathering for a bring and share supper. Incidentally, there will be a bring and share supper, on Friday 4 November, to welcome Rev Petr Samojský, who will be leading our services in November. Please join us if you can. 

Hygge also seems to chime with recurrent themes in services here at St Mark’s: celebration of the present moment, joy without material excess, and valuing human connection. However, Jeppe Linnet, a Danish anthropologist, notes that hyggeligt gatherings ‘avoid thorny topics or divisive issues’. So, in some other respects, hygge may not sit so well with Unitarianism! Nonetheless, perhaps embracing this celebratory perspective on the darker months, and in doing so being kind to ourselves and others, has value for anyone who feels the effects of the shifting seasons on their energy and mood. Experiencing hygge reminds us that, although there may be darkness in winter, light can be found too.

References (Hygge)
Aurell, B. A Mini Guide to Hygge, Available from: https://www.scandikitchen.co.uk/a-mini-guide-to-hygge/
Linnet, J. Money Can’t Buy Me Hygge: Danish Middle-Class Consumption, Egalitarianism, and the Sanctity of Inner Space, Social Analysis, Volume 55, Issue 2, Summer 2011, pp. 21–44.
Parkinson, J. Hygge: A Heartwarming lesson from Denmark. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34345791
Russel, H. Get Cosy: Why we should all embrace the Danish art of ‘hygge’, The Telegraph, 4th October 2015.
Thomsen Brits, L. Definition of Hygge, Available from: http://hygge.co/definition-of-hygge/
Wiking, M., quoted in Thomas Colson, ‘7 Reasons Denmark is the Happiest Country in the World’, The Independent, Monday 26th September 2016.