Hygge Like the Danish: How to Embrace Cozy this Winter
November 30, 2021
By Jess Hopper

Ah, winter. A season that’s often known for cold, snow, darkness and dreary moods. We fret about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) caused by fewer hours of sunlight and can feel trapped in our homes as outdoor hobbies that are easily accessible in milder seasons feel out of reach in colder temperatures.

But not everyone has this view of winter. In the northern European country of Denmark, where winters bring short days and long nights, the dark and chilly season offers an opportunity to practice hygge, the Danish sentiment of leaning into the coziness of the season, doubling down on anything that adds to the ambiance of being bundled up, all during a time made all the more festive by the holidays and decorations.

So if you’re looking for tips for making your winter season a happier one, read on for tips on how to add some hygge to your season and find a little brightness instead of gloom.

Go crazy with candles

Candles are an essential decorative element in Denmark. All home goods stores will have a wide variety of candles, and Danish homes have spaces designated for candlestick storage in the way Americans might have a junk drawer. Especially during the winter, Danes add flickers of festive coziness to their homes by decking them out in bunches of candles; in windowsills, as table centerpieces, on fireplace mantles and more. There’s even a common family craft of holding colored candlesticks over bowls of water and allowing the dripping wax to accumulate on the water creating colorful disks of decorative wax, which can be turned into Christmas ornaments or other decorations.

Given all those candles, Danes prefer unscented over scented candles as to not overpower their home with the smell of multiple scents. As the weather gets colder and darker, the promise of bunches of decorative candles scattered around the house can hold the same excitement for Danes that Americans might have for seeing bouquets of hydrangeas in the summer or decorative pumpkins in the fall.

Add other kinds of ambient lighting

Candles aren’t the only way to add a warm glow to cozy space. String lights and lamps with warm-colored bulbs can add a similarly homey ambiance. Instead of sticking with harsh overhead lighting, look for ways to add clusters of warm lighting around your rooms, and look for lighting options with dimmer switches that allow you to dictate the intensity of your light. Lowering the lights as bedtime approaches helps get your body ready for sleep, which adds to feelings of coziness.

And this is a trick that can be used outdoors as well. Cities, towns, and neighborhoods in Denmark add festive string lights to trees and pedestrian streets throughout the darker winter season, even beyond the holidays, to extend the hygge into the outdoors.

Socialize at home

A Danish summer features long days with midnight only as dark as dusk, and the Danes are known to stay out and about socializing late into the night because of it. As those sun-filled Danish summers fade into darker Danish winters, the Danes bring their social lives closer to home.

Rather than heading out to bars and restaurants, Danes are known to invite family and friends over for the kinds of dinner parties Americans might reserve for an important holiday. Candlelit potluck dinners with large groups of friends are a way to embrace the cozy desire to be at home without giving up on a social life. So this winter, if the weather whipping at your windows is keeping you from wanting to venture out to find your friends, tempt them with a home-cooked meal at your place instead.

Declutter your space

The idea of a cozy home can conjure up images of overflowing bookshelves and living rooms bursting with throw pillows, blankets, and comfortably kitschy decorations. That’s not so for Danish hygge, however. The Danes are tried and true minimalists with a cultural focus on simplicity and straightforwardness. It is a design-minded country specifically known for freedom from clutter.

Minimalism done right, especially in the winter months, can help ease claustrophobic feelings of cabin fever, so look for ways to be simple and intentional with your holiday decorations or take the longer nights as an opportunity to declutter and add an extra feeling of spaciousness to your home.

Warm up your diet

Rich warm meals and steamy drinks are staples of the Danish diet and cuisine in the winter. Teas, mulled wines, meatballs, soups and baked goods bring warmth into the body and the home at the same time. If you’re finding that salads and cold snacks like fruit and yogurt aren’t cutting it this winter, bring a little hygge into your diet with warm foods and drinks. Better yet, if you have a favorite winter recipe handed down through your family, this is a great time to crack open the cookbook.

Surround yourself with soft materials

Part of Danish hygge is being surrounded by softness. Knit socks, cashmere sweaters, fur-lined throw blankets, bundled scarves, jersey bedsheets, cozy loungewear, shearling slippers. Hygge encourages you to see that, rather than taking away the warmth and sunniness of summer, winter’s cold and dark weather offers the opportunity to bring the calm feeling of being bundled up with something soft and warm.

Invest in a happy light and supplement with vitamin D

Tanning salons are easy to find throughout Danish cities, which to Americans can seem like an odd habit for a country not known for a tan population. But in winter, visiting tanning beds is a popular way to feel sun-like warm, add a touch of color pale skin and restore vitamin D.

We know today that tanning beds are associated with a higher risk of skin cancer. Instead, invest in a happy light—a light that mimics the sunlight, combatting SAD and other effects of less natural sunlight. You may also want to consider taking vitamin D supplements, which is a common habit in northern countries likes Denmark where natural sun-given sources of vitamin D can be hard to come by in the winter months. Like time spent with a happy light, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to lift moods.

Winter doesn’t have to be the dreary season we all wish was over sooner. When seen as an opportunity to embrace the cozier parts of the season and put into practice Danish hygge, the winter season feels a whole lot brighter.

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