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Thanks to Denmark, the indescribable concept of Hygge has spread all over the world. But actually, what does it mean?
The jury is still out on whether it is possible to put the Danish concept of hygge into words. The closest direct translation into English is the word “cosy”, but it doesn’t quite cover it. Among the most prolifically used words in the Danish vocabulary, it defies a specific definition – for two reasons. First, because it is an emotional term, a word that describes a feeling or an atmosphere and thus it becomes highly subjective, defined by individual likes and properties. Which leads to the second reason, that it is always connected to a personal experience – in effect, one man’s “hygge” can be another man’s nightmare, again rendering it impossible to define with any great precision.
But there are common traits in how the Danes use the term, established by the kind of mutual understanding of things defined by common history and shared culture.
Danes grow up with the concept of hygge. “Skal vi hygge os i aften” (Shall we have a ‘hyggelig’ time tonight?) is a very commonly used phrase, and no Dane would not know what that means – open as it is to a multitude of activities. To “hygge” can be anything, from talking a walk at a leisurely pace with a loved one, watching a movie in the sofa with your kids, wrapped in blankets with warm tea or popcorn, or to have an early night and go to bed with a good book by yourself. You can “hygge” in pairs, groups or by yourself. It can also mean gathering your best friends or your family around a table of food and wine and good conversation. It can mean simply anything nice that happens in human interaction and anything self-indulgent.
What perhaps is the most meaningful thing to say in explaining the term “hygge” is that it demonstrates the Danish desire to always have a good time, to try not to worry when in the company of friends and loved ones, and to always have a big bunch of candles ready, for those long, dark months, during which the Danes are trying to “hygge” as much as the can, to survive the winter.