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The importance of hygge

The Danish concept embodies coziness and contentment

Back in 2017, one of the finalists for the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was hygge, a Danish term defined as “the quality of being warm and comfortable that gives a feeling of happiness.” 

Pronounced “hue-guh,” it is a word used to acknowledge a feeling or a moment, whether alone or with friends, indoors or outside, that is cosy, charming or special. 

There is no equivalent English translation. It has nothing to do with buying things. It is simply the ability to slow down, live in the present, recognize it and enjoy the moment. 

Hygge evolved from a 16th-century Norwegian term “hugga” that means “to comfort” or “to console” which in turn is associated with the English word “hug.” Danes grafted hygge into their lifestyle as a way to survive winter's mundane boredom, cold and darkness.  

In the 21st century, as in the past, hygge continues to lift the spirit with small things – appreciation for a soothing cup of hot coffee, a special home-cooked meal, lighting a candle or stepping outside for a breezy walk in the crisp winter air. 

On Jan. 16, the Gazette dropped by the Mission Hill toboggan run and Lions Park to see how locals were applying hygge to their daily lives. 

St. Albert hasn’t received a thick blanket of snow in weeks. Yet Mission Hill was packed with children of all ages jumping on toboggans, flying down the hill, landing in a heap, and trudging right back up the slippery slope to do it all over again. 

While some parents and children were huddled strategically planning the fastest run, North Edmonton resident Linh Tran was sharing her thoughts on how her family of five has handled hygge during COVID. 

“My husband and daughter will take the dog for a walk. Mostly the kids go off and play with electronics. I will sit on the side and read a book or watch movies,” said Tran. 

The Bedard family from Westlock incorporates the outdoors into their daily lives as a natural extension. When the Gazette caught up with them, the three Bedard sons under the age of 11 years were burning off excess energy climbing Father Jan School’s playground apparatus. 

“We live on an acreage. Usually, the kids go outside and play. They build snowmen and an igloo. And we ride an ATV,” said Julie Bedard, explaining her husband is an ironworker who works at camps in British Columbia and Fort McMurray. 

While she makes sure the boys receive plenty of fresh air, as with many mothers, Bedard is less likely to pamper herself. 

“I don’t have time to relax. We have pigs, chickens, a rabbit. I’m always outside.” 

Over at the newly constructed Lions Park freezeway, Kirsten Kalynchuk, a St. Albert resident, was enjoying an afternoon of kinship skating with her family. In this moment of hygge, the skating adventure shifted from an ordinary day into an extraordinary memory. 

This winter, the Grade 10 to 12 teacher has spent a great deal of time in nature – skating, tobogganing and walking.  

“When I go out with my kids, we make up games while we walk. Or we come up with ideas for a scavenger hunt. We spend lots of time in nature,” said Kalynchuk. “We also do tech-free family time – games or crafts.”  

In addition, she creates a sanctuary in her hectic life going out with her husband for wine and a walk. 

“This year we built a gym in our garage. We have music and everything in it. Sometimes the whole family goes out and we have a dance party.” 

Bethany and Mark Winchler also dropped by Lions Park for a free-wheeling couple’s skate. Although they enjoy strapping on skates during warm winter temperatures, their idea of hygge is cozy home entertaining with family and friends. 

“In the past few months, we haven’t had many friends over. But we like to experiment with new recipes. I got a bread book for Christmas and I just tried out olive bread,” said Mark. 

For Bethany, the global pandemic has more than ever highlighted the need for hygge. Her concept of hygge is creating the right ambience to relax and leave stress at the door. That means turning down the lights, lighting scented candles and building a crackling fire in their fireplace. 

“Enjoying a nice cup of tea with a book, or glass of wine with Mark, it’s not fancy. But it’s what we like.” 

Even if everyone else is on a January diet and exercising, try a bit of hygge. It’s a new year. Be kind to yourself, indulge in small acts that make you happy and cherish yourself.