Danish 'hygge' is the antidote for a cold dark winter

For generations, Danes have practised 'hygge.' There's no English equivalent for the word, which is all about together time that makes you feel good, and is cranked up particularly during the long, dark winter.

Danish practice of 'hygge' helps people get through the cold and dark of winter

Friends of Helene Elisa Skov enjoy hygge. (Helene Elisa Skov)

Dealing with the darkness and cold of winter in the North can be hard for even the perkiest of people.

But people living in Denmark have something that could make the winter just a little bit easier for everyone to bear. It's called hygge — loosely pronounced 'hewg-gay', with a thick Canadian accent of course.

Helene Elisa Skov explains hygge to a Canadian from her home in Denmark. (Skype)
It's essentially uninterrupted together time with loved ones. Anything from a home cooked meal with friends, to a walk complete with hot chocolate. 

"It's almost as if you can feel it physically in your body," says Helene Elisa Skov, "It's this warm fuzzy feeling that you get in your stomach."

It's really sort of a life jacket.- Helene Elisa Skov

Skov lives in Denmark and grew up with hygge. She smiles when she talks about it.

"When you're in the middle of it and you realize it all of a sudden... you realize this is the place you're supposed to be and this is just perfect."

Like northern Canada, there are very few winter daylight hours in Denmark.

"Usually we crank up the hygge just a little bit in the winter," Skov says.

She explains it's something to look forward to during the short days, a life jacket of sorts.

"Calling it hygge is just like a seal of approval."

There's no English equivalent for the word. "It's a uniquely Danish concept," Skov says, and Danes like her are ready to share.

There are more than 5 million people living in Denmark. By most accounts Danes are dubbed some of the happiest people on earth, so they must be doing something right.

Dene practices similar

In Canada's North, Dene also have their way of making it through the dark, depths of winter. 

Muriel Betsina enjoyed the winters, growing up in bush camps near Great Bear Lake. (CBC)
Elder, Muriel Betsina remembers growing up in winter bush camps on the shores of Great Bear Lake.

"We'd always be dressed warm."

As a girl, she'd be bundled up with layers of fur and cozy rabbit skin, right against her skin. 

Just before Christmas, Betsina remembers how everyone in the camp would pull out all of the stops. They'd don their best parkas, mukluks and mitts.

"Boy do they ever look fancy I see my dad once a year, ever look fancy."

Just as the Danish hygge always involves food (especially cakes), the Dene would feast on the best that had been harvested: caribou, moose head and cranberries. 

For Betsina though, winters were also always about keeping busy. Everyone's purpose was survival. 

As soon as you wake up, you make breakfast and you go out on the land and you check your traps and you come back with a load of wood and some traps, she says.

For Skov and those she keeps close to her, getting through the winter is all about savouring those simple moments of happiness.

"This idea that you don't have to do anything. You just have to be and that's enough, that's more than enough."


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