A few weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a book on hygge, or the Danish art of living well. Hygge has become almost a contemporary pop-culture phenomenon; however, the little book tells me that it is based not only in Danish history but also in ancient Norse mythology.
So, what exactly is hygge? Well according to Louisa Thomsen Brits, the author of “The Book of Hygge”, it “draws meaning from the fabric of ordinary living…it’s a way of acknowledging the sacred in the secular, of giving something ordinary a special context, spirit and warmth and taking time to make it extraordinary”.
Now, previous to reading this book, I associated hygge with warm fires, mugs of hot drinks, fluffy blankets, cosy homes. It’s no wonder as this is what the media has perpetuated. However, hygge is about so much more. It’s about being mindful, feeling connected and safe, feeling at ease. It’s about the daily rituals that we all have that make us feel comfort, that anchor us and really instil a sense of well-being.
In short, it’s the little acts that can bring us into a deep presence with life.
It’s Thich Nhat Hanh exclaiming, “the dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”
Or, Alice walker’s beautiful poem ‘Grace’…
gives me a day
I had thought
to stay indoors
washing my dishes
I am happy
to be inside
This, I think,
Just this choosing
a beautiful day
Hygge is about turning inwards and coming home to the beauty that surrounds us in each moment. It’s found in the earthy aroma of the day’s first cup of coffee, the quietness of an afternoon with a good book, the soft squish of hands kneading dough, a conversation with a dear friend at a warmly lit table.
Interestingly, even though hygge is timeless, hygge seems to become more popular at Christmas time. There are countless articles referring to how one can “have a very ‘hygge’ Christmas” or one can find “hygge Christmas gift guides” with a quick search of Google. And I might even argue that elements of hygge can be found in the tradition surrounding the ‘spirit’ of Christmas.
For instance, Christmas lands at the darkest time of the year- a time for turning inwards. It’s a time for “giving something ordinary a special context, spirit and warmth and taking time to make it extraordinary”. Meals are specially prepared, time is spent with those we hold dear, fires are lit, books are exchanged, and coffees are spiced. Special care is given to the ordinary, making the season feel extraordinary. However, this all comes with a price. Instead of ‘all is calm’, Christmas can feel hurried, busy and even cluttered with the chaos of excess.
This got me asking the questions- How can we truly feel peace and joy during the holidays? How can we bring in a sense of safety, connection and ease? How can we be mindful? How can we practice hygge and truly embody the spirit of season?
Perhaps, we might do this by being present and finding the miracle in washing the dishes, as Thich Nhat Hanh describes. Or, through the mundane task of slowing down to clean and pare the brussel sprouts that will feed the visiting neighbour. Perhaps, we might find peace and ease by taking our days one task at time. Or, by setting aside a day or two between Christmas and New Year to stay in pajamas- to read, to eat, to take a bath by candlelight, to shut the noise off and to watch the fire. Safe, connected and at ease.
This is my intention for the next week or so- to slow down, to take my days one task at a time and to find the sacred in as many moments as I can be present for. And this is my wish for you and yours during the coming days.
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