Imagine you step out of your warm log winter cabin into the icy air and take a deep breath. The enchanting intricacies of winter greet you with the familiarity of an old friend. That arctic cold air fills your lungs as you gaze upon the naked trees dancing to the northern lights, almost glimmering and glowing against the cooling twilight. Hot cocoa warms your frost-bitten fingers; every sip spreading sweet reveries throughout your chest. You pause to acknowledge the moment and cherish the feeling. This is Hygge (pronounced hue-guh), my favourite Danish word/expression.
Hygge is the conscious acknowledgment of a feeling or moment in time that makes you nostalgic for the moment before it becomes a memory. Author Helen Dyrbye describes hygge as “the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.” It reminds me of what it might feel like to be the beautiful melody of a winter folk song.
These wistful winter moments sound surreal, don’t they? There is a reason that Scandinavian countries have a reputation for being the happiest in the world: they find joy and fulfillment in the little things and embrace every moment with grace and intention.
So, this holiday season I challenge you to allow the sweet boreal aromas of fresh pine needles to inspire hygge. Fall back into a time of joy and simplicity. Take a moment to liberate yourself from the complexities of life. Let us say farewell to our over-exuberant North American labyrinth of holiday craze and adopt some of these wholesome Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
Here are my five Scandinavian holiday traditions to adopt this Season:
Book Giving on Christmas Eve
The gift of sentimental escapism. One beautiful tradition deeply ingrained in Icelandic culture is the giving of books on Christmas Eve and spending the night reading. More than a gift exchange, books offer an escape from reality; something many of us desperately long for after this unforgettable year. Slip into your comfortable clothes and entangle yourself in blankets. Feel the spine of your book crack as you unwind with your imagination and a warm beverage, like mulled wine or a cup of tea. Escape with your loved ones deep into the pages of a deliciously addictive book this Christmas Eve and leave your 2020 realities for an evening of imaginative realism.
Embrace the Great Outdoors
Yes, it is cold outside. Rain may splash at your window, or buckets of snow may be piling up on your driveway. Embrace it. Let the rain fall on your face, like refreshing droplets of serenity. Play in the snow the way you did as a child, reminisce jovial days of innocence. Five years old, wrapped up in the season's tide spirit, belting every essential holiday song known to humankind.
Scandinavian winters are notoriously harsh, with long days dressed in dark and dreary skies, however, that does not stop habitants from finding hygge in their everyday. A common winter philosophy the Scandinavians follow is that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” So, embrace winter fashion. Wear bright colours or light tones and illuminate the otherwise somber outdoors with your uplifted spirit. Swaddle yourself in your coziest scarf, zip up your fluffiest coat, dawn a pair of your thickest mittens, and step into the frosty air. Embrace the adventure of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and hiking. Ride a sleigh. Start a snowball fight. Build that snowman. Dance in the rain. Walk with a warm cup of something and admire your neighbour’s Christmas light display. Rediscover the beauty of nature and soak up some Vitamin D!
While COVID-19 has taken many of our indoor winter privileges hostage, the great outdoors offers us infinite amounts of freedom. Just remember to keep socially distanced wherever your outdoor adventure takes you.
Hydrotherapy and Saunas
Wellness and self care rituals have been at the forefront of Scandinavian mindsets for hundreds of years. Explore the benefits of hydrotherapy for an invigorating full body experience. This Nordic tradition awakens your body by exposing it to extreme hot and cold temperatures to activate your circulation.
Scandinavian’s escape the city and retreat to intimate log cabins surrounded by glistening snow. Warm glowing fireplaces keep their clothes warm as they undress and run naked into the wilderness. Families will jump into the freezing waters of lakes nearby, or roll in the fluffy white snow. After shocking the body with bone-chilling temperatures, a satisfying warm up in a sauna is next. They sit in golden silence, listening to the whispers of their natural surroundings while toxins escape their bodies. As the wood burning stove crackles, they begin “twig slapping” (vihta, or vasta,), which aids with skin health and circulation. A whisk of twigs is all you need to practice with wellness rituals.
Being mindful of the current COVID-19 social restrictions this winter, try recreating this experience in the comfort of your home. Escape the paralyzing fears 2020 has brought upon us and release any pent-up negative energy with this radical Scandinavian self-care cleanse. Undress yourself and dash out into the nipping cold and allow the biting winter air to awaken every inch of your body. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, then hustle back to your warm sanctuary. Transform your bathroom into a steam room; replace beaming bathroom lighting with the incandescent glow of flickering candles. Turn the shower nozzle as hot as you can bear and feel your muscles loosen up. Try hanging dried eucalyptus on your shower head for extreme relaxation.
If the opportunity to shock your body with frigid outdoor temperatures is not available to you, slip into your shower and alternate the water temperature between hot and cold for optimal benefits.Have you ever participated in Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim? Perhaps this is this New Year to start – socially distanced, of course. Find a private section of any body of water nearby, strip down, and dive!
Scandinavians see winter like an old friend. They boldly embrace the season by making it their own. They remain positive; boldness is a state of mind.
Be as bold as the Scandinavians are as they roll naked in beds of freezing snow. Create moments that you will never forget by taking risks this winter season. Escape your fears and establish new traditions, master complex recipes, experiment with intriguing cocktail (or mocktail) methods, start a snowball fight, build a snow fort, reach out to your long lost someone and reconnect. Remember, boldness does not just come from actions; it comes from mindsets. While the winter blues may attempt to shape our holiday experiences, everything is mind over matter. Whether this means sprinkling a little cinnamon on your morning coffee for a sweet pick-me-up, or trying out snowboarding for a fun adrenaline rush, taking ownership over your winter is as “bold as an embodied storm” (T. Buchanan Read).
Consciously escape this rollercoaster of a year by being present with a minimalist mindset this holiday season. In North America we tend to consume ourselves with commercial and material goods, while many Scandinavian families create beautiful memories with their minimalist approach to Christmas. Try to capture every moment this holiday season by spending time with your loved ones. In Scandinavian culture, the winter season is all about spending quality time together and uniting as one. This year, instead of buying the latest trending gadget for your loved one, gift them with timeless moments to remember. Spend the afternoon baking sugar cookies or crafting ornaments with foliage you find outside. Breaking bread by the fireplace, sipping coffee or tea for an afternoon of thought-provoking conversation. Less is more. Escape from any distractions preventing you from being present with yourself and loved ones and create meaning and everlasting memories. Celebrating traditions and moments in time will always be more memorable than the latest electronic distraction you received for Christmas.
Founders of iLOLA, Su-Mari and Tim Hill, have embraced the Scandinavian spirit and have certainly brought hygge into their family home. Every Christmas, instead of chocolate advent calendars, they gift their five children books to read each day leading up to Christmas. Cozying up in the living room with warm blankets and bare feet, together the family unwinds for moments of authentic familial bliss.
Our North American mindsets can feel intimidated by the bold Scandinavians winter lifestyle. Their freedom to run naked in the snow is not really part of our natural DNA. Oftentimes we feel we are on the precipice of crumbling under the pressures of life, causing us to forget how to be in the present. As our co-founder Tim says, "Life is not against you - it's an opportunity for you to rise up and become even stronger.” Therefore, we encourage you to embrace simplicity and discover the art of happiness. Escape from the ‘norm’ and discover more hygge moments in your life. Embrace every intimate moment this winter season; your wellbeing will thank you for it.