Hygge: A Scandinavian social phenomenon, with a Canadian twist!

By Sandra K. Klassen –

Hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah,” is a Scandinavian social phenomenon that seems to be finding its ground in Canada. Or, at least it is a term Canadians can now attach to a winter coziness many of us have experienced for a lifetime. But for so long we just couldn’t quite put our finger on what it was or how to describe it. Now, thanks to a Norwegian word that roughly translates to “wellness,” we Canadians can tag our more memorable winter experiences as being hyggelig, a cozy experience anywhere, with anyone, at anytime: and even better in winter.

The Canadian sensibility of hygge seems to be taking off as meaning embracing winter, looking it in the eye, welcoming it with open arms. The next step is to have a wintery experience and then find yourself a cozy spot with someone you like (even yourself!) and top it off with a robust glass of wine, a steaming mug of tea, a bowl of homemade soup, or a good book. If you do it right, you should feel soporific and that all is just right in the world.

Without doing it intentionally, my husband and I achieved this state of wintry wellness when we hosted a Lumberjack-themed Christmas party for a dozen family and friends. It didn’t hurt that there was a campfire, heaps of good food, free-flowing red wine and Barkerville brews, and numerous outdoor events, which is how we started the evening. The campfire was crackling as we gathered ‘round, dressed head to toe in lumberjack attire. The teams were chosen: The Strongs, and The Burlies. The games began.

The (modified) axe-throwing competition was turning out to be an event everyone seemed good at, until my husband decided to whistle the axe overhand and knocked out the Christmas lights on the target, a hulahoop hung between two trees. Next came the firewood relay where each team member had to “lumber” to pick up a piece of firewood then lumber back to the start and, in the end, create a Martha Stewart-like stack of firewood. We then tossed pinecones, which was much harder than it looked, into a huge bear’s mouth out of cardboard. This event took some of the swagger out of the competitors.

It was surprising that the RCMP weren’t called during the timber hollering competition. Guests, with one leg resting on a large stump, gripping a serious looking axe, tilted their heads back and hollered “timber” until their vocal chords threatened to snap. To finish off the outdoor events, guests had been asked to bring woodsy items and Christmas décor to add to a Christmas planter making competition. The results were breathtaking planters and names were drawn to determine the winners of the planters. Even though I lost a good string of lights (I lazily left them out in the garage and someone figured they were fair game) and most of a box of decorations I had gathered over the years, the team efforts resulted in a very “hyggelig” time.

After spending almost three hours outside, the party moved indoors to share a potluck meal and karaoke, indoor games, and so on. But, due to the hyggelig effect we had created, all of us ended up gathered around in the living room, sampling the desserts and downing more Christmas spirits, and a gentle hygge type of visiting commenced. Not a carol was sung, not a round of CatchPhrase was played.

At this point, everyone had shed their outer layers and a dizzying sea of lumberjack plaid shirts blended in with the Christmas lights and candles. Guests began nodding off. It was nearly 11 p.m.! We had achieved a heightened sense of hygge throughout the evening and now participants, afraid of falling fast asleep and drooling, were putting their Carhartt jackets back on and warming up vehicles for the drive home.

To us, this party was our hygge experience. And it quite possibly depicts the Canadian interpretation of this phenomena. And I love our Canadian twist here. Keep it simple, because if you delve into a closer look at the Scandinavian idea of hygge you can get into a lot of discussion about egalitarian societal norms, avoiding controversial topics, encouraging positive social interactions. I am pretty sure there was some stealing going on between teams during the Christmas planter competition and I know for a fact that one lumberjack carried two pieces of firewood at one time by tucking one piece underneath his jacket. But I never said a word because he was on my team, The Burlies, and everyone knew he was doing it and it was falling-down funny.

So, why not spend some time over the next month or so, especially if you are one of those who proclaims to hate winter, and see if you can either plan a hygge experience, or have a cozy winter experience that results in wellness and recognize it, when you look back on the experience, as being hyggelig. Here is a template to help build your hygge experience:

I am going to: _______________________(the experience), with: ______________________________ (who you will sharing hygge with),

at: ___________________________________ (where). Hygge makes me feel: __________________________________!

By the way, Hometown Hockey on the first weekend of January 2018 in Williams Lake was a pretty hyggelig experience. I think I saw you there. You looked like you were having a hyggelig time!

Sandra, a Laker, wishes she was smarter, better looking, and that she had become a private investigator. She has many interests and loves to write about them. Overall, she is high on life in the Cariboo and credits that to the great locals and the beautiful landscape that surrounds us. 

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