I am from Danish stock. Admittedly, only half of me is Danish. But, it’s been a pretty massive influence on my life. When I am with my sister, this Danishness is heightened. Our shared memories and experiences are laced with Danish tradition, time spent in Denmark, speaking Danish and the innate understanding of this word ‘hygge’, this state of being that seems to be the buzz word right now. And I have to say that I am worried.
I am worried that hygge is being hijacked by the world of retail. For a start, until the recent craze, ‘hygge’ was not the version of the word I had used. I have always said ‘hyggelig’ (pronounced hoogerlee). But, semantics aside, whatever you want to call it, by purchasing Scandinavian designer furniture, lighting candles, dimming lights and wearing fair-isle sweaters, you cannot achieve this state. Seriously, this is in fact the negation of hyggelig. Hyggelig is a state of mind. It is the feeling of love and connectivity with family and friends. It is the sense of being more than the sum of your parts. Yes, the candle light and the cosiness and the pleasing décor does all add to this. But this is entirely based on your own taste. Being hyggelig is about having shared experiences. Having a hyggelig time is about laughter and love and togetherness – obviously doing this in a pleasant environment where you feel comfortable and at home and welcome is imperative. But reader, be warned, this is not something you can buy in John Lewis.
When we were younger, on our summer holidays in Denmark, we would listen to our relatives talking about how hyggelig something was, and I remember we would roll our eyes and huff and puff a bit. I mean, when you are a kid, a hyggelig evening translates to sitting around in a boring house with people talking about stuff you have no interest in whatsoever, watching them drink coffee and eat pastries, sitting on classic Danish designed furniture in sympathetic surroundings, all laughing and chatting and generally being hyggelig. This is not something that travels well into a child’s world.
But there were occasions as a child when I knew that I was having a hyggelig time and I would get that feeling of warmth and love and contentment. For instance, when my Grandma would make a picnic and we would go with her and my Grandad on a trip to pick heather and stop on the way home to eat. My Grandma had a red picnic case that she would fill with beautifully created open sandwiches. She would bring a tablecloth, plates, knives, forks, salt and pepper and other condiments! There was a thermos of coffee and Danish pastries too. The picnic was a feast. We loved it and the only way to describe the experience would be – hyggelig.
Now, if you imagine the kind of picnic that I create for my family –slightly soggy ham/cheese roll, shop bought sausage rolls, crisps, maybe some pre-prepared fruit – a picnic rug if I remember. This is not one for the memory bank. There is no ceremony, no finesse, no pride taken in the simple and mundane process of turning the humble food stop into an ‘experience’. This to me is a large part of what a hyggelig moment entails.
Thinking about the process, creating a moment, taking pride in it and most importantly, sharing it. This is the path to hygge.
I had a rare day yesterday when I met my sister and we spent 6 hours together. It could possibly go down as one of the best days of my life. Do you want to know what we did? We met in the café at John Lewis in Kingston upon Thames. We were alone, all 6 of our children now finally being in full time education. We drank a cup of coffee and we spoke uninterrupted about what we wanted to talk about. My sister has had to take a bit of time off her unbelievably stressful job, and she is going back very soon. So we thought we would have one day off together luxuriating in the fact that we did not have to make a detour to the toy department, playground, toilet to change a nappy or be interrupted to the shouts of boredom and attention seeking. After our coffee we spent about 2 hours looking at curtains and curtain fabric and cushions. Nobody complained. We gossiped and laughed. We had a really long lunch. Then we went our separate ways, back to reality. I felt extremely sad knowing that we will probably not have another day like this for a while.
But, my overwhelming sense was that I love my sister more than I can express really, that this makes me very happy and that the ostensibly run of the mill day we had mooching around a shopping centre together, just being in one another’s company will be an enduring and happy memory. This, my friends, is the perfect example of HYGGE.