“Even in the cold months of January and February, the Danes are hard to beat – some even seek colder heights in Norway and Sweden for skiing. These dark months of biting frost are, however, still lit from within by the warm, homey light that the Danes love, yet now with a light somewhat dimmer and more silent than during the festive season of Christmas.
But suddenly two months have passed since winter solstice, and you realise to your delight that daylight hours have increased considerably. And then we start to dream of spring and the first sprouting flowers and herbs that emerge from the frozen ground in March.” From Visit Denmark
A long time has passed since I had to deal with weather of any sort; living in Santa Monica, California is a blessing and curse like that. It’s one weather dressing, flip flops year round with just a sweater needed for warmth. Scarves are for decoration and rain becomes a novelty.
Winter was a charming holiday activity; each year for my February birthday I’d go back to Europe, playing in a sudden snow storm without care, lounging by the fire with family, find reasons to dash into every cafe after walking outside for only a few moments. It was on these holiday trips where I’d stop and think, “I could do this. I could live this way forever.” And upon returning to the heat and generic weather of my newly adopted home town, I’d start fantasizing about moving somewhere that would have winter and all the hyggelig things I’d do in them.
However, the reality of going through my first real winter in years (after living in a combination of California, the mild Northwest and hot Texas) has been a little different than my romanticised, on-holiday dreams (isn’t that always the case?). I’ve had to realise that I actually do need sweaters, a puffy winter coat and gloves that are more than just for decoration. That shoveling snow isn’t so fun after the first foot and that being snowed in (while charming when you’ve nowhere to go), can be slightly isolating. Long walks are replaced by quick ones from car to home and the dog park is replaced by quick ‘business’ trips to the backyard. And while sun, warmth and beach seem to be that of youth, long dark, cold days seem to make a person feel a little older and heavier.
Call it the winter blues or adjusting still to a new city. Whatever the word, my first official winter has been a challenge. But since I am here with no escaping the winter (until my birthday next month when I’ll take a warm holiday thank you very much!) I’ve been actively trying to incorporate the charm of winter I found on holidays into my day to day life. I took being able to do that for granted when I lived in warm, colourful, lively places – my mood and surroundings were more open to it. But with the heaviness of winter, I have to be more conscious of how I’m doing and living and what I can do to get through until the robins come back and flip flops are in order.
This, of course, has had me thinking a great deal about Hygge, a word I think, that really derives from winters. When people felt the need to get cosy, to feel good and secure, to indulge in good food, relax, and get through the dark and cold days. It’s why you often see bulbs sprouting paper whites in windows everywhere in Denmark in January and February and now, in my home too. The bit of greenery and sweet scent reminds me that it is possible to grow during this time.
And so, I’ve made a few changes to my daily life to help me get through winter.
Candles, while always important in my home, have become even more so. I’ve bought large, beautiful mercury glass containers with non-scented candles so that my home has a warm, cosy glow in the evening starting at about 5 or 6. In fact, in most rooms, the lights never go on. It’s simply candle light. This has really helped my natural body rhythms unwind. If I do use scented candles, I’ve been leaning towards fireplace scents (vanilla and patchouli) which seem to fill the room with instant warmth and cosy.
Usually a tea drinker, I’ve found myself having a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Although I’ve long tooted my love of my french press and Urth Coffee, I bought a small personal coffee machine which has brews a pretty good cup in 3 minutes – something essential when the floors are cold and you just need warmth to help you wake up (this is also perhaps one of the reasons Danes drink so much). Although I initially bought the machine for guests, I’ve given in. Summers are for the press, winter mornings are for quickness. I do, however, still have tea in the afternoons. I’ll drink as much warmth as I can but I need that slow brew process in the afternoon.
I’ve always been a fan of hot food over cold (I am the kind of girl who will eat soup on a scorching summer day) and that’s no different now. What is, is that I’ve been doing a lot of slow cooking. My Whole Foods runs for dinners have almost stopped and cooking and reheating leftovers has taken it’s place. Not only has this been great for the pocketbook and staying in shape when I’ve been less active in my daily life (not eating processed food has been huge for me), but the rhythm of cooking, of feeling invested in what I’m doing and not rushed, has made the dark 6-7PM hour a little sweeter.
When two feet of snow arrived a couple of weeks ago, I took early morning and late night walks through town in it. I stopped in several cafe’s for coffee or hot apple cider. I took a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Philadelphia – for an hour, in 29F weather! But bundled up and learning the history of my new town, I felt like a happy tourist instead of a bitter local waiting for spring. And yes, I totally grabbed a coffee after that!
I ordered flannel sheets.
So while there are some adjustments that have been harder to make (investing in winter gear, living in a totally heated, dry house, not walking outside as much as I’d like, missing light and warmth), I’m hopeful that by incorporating more hygge into winter, I’ll get through it just fine.
Although, between you and me, summer can’t come quick enough!