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I mentioned ‘hygge’ yesterday – not because I’m fashionably cutting edge or because I got a book about hygge for Christmas (although I DID get one), but because I’m qualified to talk about it, having lived my first years in Denmark before hygge was a global lifestyle brand!
Hygge is not just about lighting a couple of candles and arranging food stylishly onto wooden ‘sharing’ boards instead of plates, and then sitting on a Scandinavian sofa strewn with reindeer cushions and Great Grandma’s crochet blanket. In fact, it’s quite an intangible quality, and regular trips to Denmark are highly recommended as revision courses in how it’s done.
We were in Denmark recently, to celebrate the birthday of a dear family member. The family had put on the most amazing spread – I think there were THIRTY people in their lounge/diner – 3 or 4 delicious courses of homemade delights, interspersed liberally with schnapps and other alcoholic beverages. Very dangerous for me…
(Did you know that Japanese people can’t process alcohol properly – along with most of the East Asian population? We lack a certain enzyme, which means alcohol goes straight to our heads – no, actually, straight to our FACES. Anyone who knows me well will know that I don’t drink. Or, if I do, it has to be very dark. No one wants to see a beetroot face and bloodshot eyes. Not nice.)
Anyway, during the celebration, I sat back and looked at the happy smiling faces of those around me. I didn’t understand everything that was said to me, but it didn’t matter a bit. I watched the older children playing games with the younger children, looking after them diligently. I saw EVERY member of the family at some point, stand up and help with the food or plates or furniture rearrangement. Everyone looked contented. There was laughter, banter, deep discussion, occasional roars of amusement. It was totally carefree.
Now I’m not saying that these people live in a Utopian paradise, and that their lives are perfect. Of course, no one has a perfect life – and these people have the same worries, sorrows and problems as the rest of us.
BUT, it was evident that they were living in the now. They were happy now. There was good food, good company, a glowing room full of friends right now…and they were committed to living those moments as earnestly as they could. Tomorrow, the cares and anxieties of normal life would kick back in, but for these few hours, they were able to focus all their energy on having a good time.
No one was on their phone. No one was taking a selfie, and then spending the rest of the evening sitting in a corner, updating social media to boast about the fantastic time they were having with their friends.
And that, in a nutshell, is hygge.
It’s all about people, relationships, communication, company, support and appreciation of the little things. People play games, instead of watching YouTube videos. People go for walks, wrapped up in scarves and hats to ward off the cold. People invite others to get involved with whatever is happening – whether it’s making meatballs, threading Christmas decorations across the ceiling, or picking fresh peas from the garden. It’s absolutely glorious.
Every time I go to Denmark, I vow to be more like my Danish family. And within a few days, we’re just us again – sitting in separate rooms plugged into various digital devices, arguing about whose turn it is to do the chores. Lighting candles does very little to mitigate this.
Oh well… All the more reason to go back to Denmark for one of those consolidation masterclasses. And pastries! The pastries are great.