If you come from gentler climes, you might be feeling a little nervous about the approaching winter in Denmark. It’s going to be cold, and it’s going to be dark.
But wherever you live, learning to cope with the cold the Danish way might be good for you. The Danes, after all, are consistently ranked amongst the happiest people in the world. Even though they live in a country that is, for at least half the year, very cold and dark.This is where ‘hygge’ comes in: a Danish concept that has emerged out of its homeland and is gently insinuating itself into the rest of the world.
There is no word in English that equates to ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’). Efforts to translate it often result in descriptions like ‘cosy’ and ‘warm and fuzzy’. Places can be described as ‘hyggeligt’ (hygge-like), and even people can be said to convey the essence of hygge.
It encompasses an idea of comfort, of contentment, of peace and happiness, and appreciation for the moment. In essence, hygge is about creating a nice, warm atmosphere, and about taking the time to enjoy the good things in life with the people around you. You can feel hygge when you’re alone, but it’s best experienced in the company of friends and family.
But while hygge will help with your mental well-being, there are some other practicalities to consider, too. If you’ve never lived in a country that becomes a freezing cold winter wonderland, hygge alone will not carry you through. But don’t worry. Even before the invention of central heating, plenty of people have survived winter in Denmark. All it takes is a little preparation, so here are some tips to get you started.
Build a Nest
Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time inside over the Danish winter. So, you’ll want your home to be as cosy, comfortable, and hyggeligt as you can make it. Don’t worry, it’s a simple process, and doesn’t have to cost you too much, either. All you need to do is build yourself an in-house nest, with a few Danish twists.
You don’t need to do a complete overhaul, and in fact simple is best. It’s easy to transform a cold, spartan room with just a few additional touches. It might be a fluffy woolen throw, or a chunky knit blanket. Maybe you could put down a faux fur rug. It might even be as simple as picking up some cushions.
Think different textures, neutral colours, and huggability. You’ll want to maximise on the soft and fuzzy. Lots of different kinds of soft and fuzzy.
For that final touch, just add candles. Scented or unscented, fancy or plain, the candle itself is almost immaterial. It’s the candlelight that’s important. The warm, flickering flame is one of the most fundamental moments of hygge to be found, creating a perfect island of warmth and brightness against the cold dark of winter.
Get some comfy loungewear
Now that your home is a little more hygge, it’s time to get yourself properly attired to enjoy it. Wrapping yourself up in some comfy loungewear is the perfect first step towards having a truly hygge moment.
From a onesie to a loose top, flannel to cashmere, your loungewear should be warm, comfortable, and just right for you. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or fancy, or even specifically designed to be loungewear. The most important thing is that you like it, and feel cosy and relaxed when you wear it. It’s best to have a few options, as you’re likely going to be spending plenty of time in loungewear.
Once you’re properly attired and your candles are lit, you can snuggle in with a good book, and relish a moment of solitary hygge.
Invest in a sunlamp
You’ve built your cosy hygge-like nest, and maybe it’s already making you feel better about the Danish winter. But while you’ve dealt with the cold and the ambience, the short days can still get to you in unexpected ways.
In winter, the sun peaks over the horizon from as little as seven hours a day in December, to nine hours in February. And while those hours might not seem too short, keep in mind that it will stay low on the horizon, and you shouldn’t expect all of those hours to be filled with bright sunshine.
Having too little sunshine has been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), causing depression, lethargy, and general irritability. Getting a sunlamp, however, can help a great deal. A sunlamp isn’t just any old regular bedside light. Brighter and more intense, it simulates sunlight. Switching it on for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening can go a long way towards alleviating winter depression, and might make it easier to get up in the morning, too.
Take up winter activities
Even if you have built yourself a perfect space at home, it’s important not to become a hermit. Getting some fresh, bracing air is good for you, and it won’t seem so cold if you’re moving. Skiing, sledding, ice climbing, snowmobiling and hockey keep the Danes fit in the long winter months, and it’s a good idea to join them.
Keeping active, seeing people, and braving the outdoors are all excellent ways to stave of the winter blues and take advantage of all the fun opportunities offered by the season.
As an added bonus, if you’re new to the country, participating in winter sports is a great way to make friends in winter. Many of the locals will turn inwards in the winter months, venturing outside less, and appearing less social. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Given the opportunity, Danes are a warm and friendly people, so strap on a pair of skis, grab your sled, and enjoy the season.
Learn how to dress
Every Scandinavian child can tell you there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. This Scandinavian saying, commonly attributed to Norway and Sweden, is just as applicable in Denmark.
If you want to go outside at some point over the winter, you’ll need to make sure you dress appropriately. If you come from a place with cold winters, you’ll know the drill already. If your version of cold doesn’t involve months of snow, ice, and a brutal wind chill factor, you have much to learn.
First, dress in layers. You’ll need anywhere from three to six, depending on the fabrics you choose and the temperature outside. A good coat is critical, along with gloves, scarves and hats. Wool and silk are the best fabrics to choose.
You’ll also need a good pair of boots, with thick, solid rubber soles and good traction. Not only are cold feet a terrible thing to endure, but falling on the ice is not fun, and can lead to concussions or broken bones.
Once you’re ready to go, keep in mind that dressing for the weather can take as long as ten minutes, so factor this in when you need to be somewhere on time.
Take up an indoor hobby
It can be easy to fall into the trap of getting home, getting comfy, and watching TV night after night. Even if you feel like it’s making you happy at the time, this can be a dangerous cycle, and set you up for a listless, lonely winter.
Instead, use your time at home to pick up a new hobby, like knitting or sewing. You’ll feel more focused and refreshed. Doing something productive will help you feel like the long nights aren’t wasted.
Quiet time spent doing something you enjoy is also the perfect setting for a little bit of hygge. It gives you space to appreciate the moment, your surroundings, and the good things in life.
Beware of dry skin
One unexpected side effect of a very cold winter is dry, cracked skin. You may scoff, but if you don’t take care there’s a high chance you’ll end up with sore, uncomfortable hands, lips, and eyes.
When you’re outside, it’s a good idea to cover up your face as much as possible, and don’t forget your gloves. Use moisturiser and lip balm before your skin starts to feel like old leather.
Even in your house, the dry air can become a problem. If you’re suffering from static shocks every time you touch the door handle, and it feels like your eyes are drying out on those evenings in, you might consider getting a humidifier.
Spend time with your friends
Moments of hygge can be enjoyed alone, but are best enjoyed with company. So arrange to spend time with your friends. Whether it’s for something simple like a cup of coffee, or a more ambitious home-cooked three-course meal, enjoying a pleasant atmosphere with good food and excellent company is at the heart of hygge.
It is easy to become isolated in winter, as many people do seem to hibernate. But making the effort to spend time with your friends will make the winter feel less cold, less dark, and not so long.
The togetherness you experience by spending time with good friends can happen anywhere. Provided there is food, company, and a warm sense of closeness and familiarity, it’ll help lift your mood.
Stock up on cold and flu drugs
Scandinavians are a tough lot, and getting hold of anything to treat your cold and flu symptoms is nearly impossible. Even drugs considered routine and available over the counter in other countries are highly regulated in Denmark.
Your pharmacy will stock mild paracetamol and cough sweets, but nothing stronger. Even if you go to the doctor, they’ll likely prescribe hot tea.
So if you don’t fancy tackling the winter without some relief from the inevitable sniffles, you are strongly advised to take a good supply of your favourite cold and flu remedies with you.
Go on holiday
The bright lights of the festive season that made the winter seem a little less dreary have been packed away. But it’s still cold, it’s still dark, and spring feels like a distant dream.
Sticking it out in Denmark through the entire season is a tough slog. There are plenty of Danes who ship out for a few days for a dose of sunshine and warmer weather. And let’s face it: sometimes the best way to cope with a cold, dark winter is to leave for a little while.
Taking a winter holiday to southern Europe, or even further afield, is a tried and true method of dealing with the cold. Even in the middle of winter, the shores of the Mediterranean will feel tropical. Chances are, you’ll even be able to go outside without a coat. Your mind and body will appreciate the break, and booking a holiday will give you something to look forward to on those long, dark nights.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer