January 21, 2013

Danish Dreams, Coming True

At some point in the last several years, my enchantment with Paris was supplanted by a fascination with Scandinavia. Paris will always be Paris, of course, but these cold, cozy countries to the north captured my imagination in a new way. How could a place so cloaked in long winter darkness be home to the happiest people on earth? The part of me that can’t stop thinking about how where we live affects how we live couldn’t get Scandinavia out of my mind.

The day I stumbled across Alex‘s blog, Hygge House, was like finding a door in the back of a wardrobe that leads to an enchanted country whose language has a single word that encapsulates so much of what I care about:

The Danish word hygge (hue-gah) is a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary; whether it’s using real lights on a Christmas tree or breaking out the good wine when friends come over.

It’s about owning things you only truly love or that inspire, being present in yourself and your life, putting effort into your home without being Martha Stewart or buying a bed in a bag. It’s also about being conscious and authentic from home to work to friends to celebrations and making all events {no matter how big or small, mundane or exciting} matter.

Words like cosiness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of Hygge. Some refer to Hygge as the Art of Creating Intimacy (with yourself, friends and home). Technology and modern day busy-ness has removed so many of us from ourselves, our homes and ordinary tasks, making them feel as though these things are hard to do, have no importance or are too time-consuming.

Danes, however, only like to do things that are fun, nourish the soul and are familiar so they find ways to incorporate them into their daily life. By creating simple rituals without effort {such as brewing real tea with a little china cup every evening to stopping at the farmers market every week to buy flowers} the Danes see both the domestic and personal life as an art form and not every drudgery to get away from.

When I found the complete set of the Time-Life Food Series in an Upper East Side church basement, I fell in love with the volume on the Cooking of Scandinavia. The author tells the story of exceedingly welcoming Danes who go out of their way to put a dinner on for him and his wife.

The dinner was a triumph of what the Danes called hygge, a word that connotes a sense of well-being, of visceral and mental comfort when the world has been reduced to a dining-room size and the curtains have been drawn against the night. It is an atmostphere that all Danish hostesses try to create for their guests, an extra something to go with the food and to which the food itself contributes. More candles must be burned per capita, more flowers bought in their pursuit of this hospitable aura in Denmark than in any other country in the world. […] One of their sayings puts the matter this way: “First flowers on the table; then food.”

And what of the food in Scandinavia?

It is many things: fish, of course, but pork and poultry as well; beets, potatoes, cucumbers; dill, parsley and horseradish; apples and almonds; cream and that golden product of cream, butter. The cooking is pure, and it is simple. Foods taste of themselves in the North: they smack of the sea, or a fresh-water lake, or even the earth. And some, like the garnet lingonberry or the sand-colored mushroom, are not only born of the forest, but bring a breath of pines or birches to to the table with them.

I read the book On My Swedish Island, asked for a pair of snow shoes for Christmas, and started visiting the sauna at the YMCA more regularly.

I started looking at design blogs, longing for pale wood floors, candles, and sheepskin rugs. I loved these rooms that were clean, simple, and cheerfully whimsical, all at once. I pinned like crazy.

I can’t quite explain why this region so captures my imagination. It has something to do with the clear winter light that reminds me of Minnesota, an unafraid embrace of winter (“there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”), the fresh outdoorsiness, the clean-flavored, simple food. It all feels wholesome to me. And when I imagine that life in the woods where I am stirring a pot of stew and growing geraniums in the windows, that is how it feels: soul-nourishing, in the most basic and elemental kind of way. It feels like an important connection, even if it’s one I’ve completely dreamed up.

Dreams are coming true this Friday night when we board a plane to Copenhagen. I am bringing an extra empty suitcase and a fully-charged camera battery. I’m thinking of this as Life Design Inspiration Trip: I want to photograph everything that delights my eye, buy candlesticks and platters and blankets, and come home filled with ideas to make my own life more hygge.  I am so excited I am about to burst! Please, if you have suggestions––restaurants, hidden gems, favorite museums, day trips, etc––I am all ears! And if you are there and want to meet up, even better!

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  • katy: I hope you have a wonderful time! I’ve been to Finland–both to Helsinki and the Lapland–and I understand your fascination with both the aesthetic and life philosophy of the region. I look forward to hearing about your trip!

    Happy travels!3 years ago

  • Shauna: Oh Sarah that’s so exciting! So fab when a dream turns into a plane trip. I went there in 2004 and have been busting to go back ever since and it’s only gotten worse with the Danish crime drama obsession (The Killing; The Bridge) and Borgen (like the West Wing, but better 😉 )

    I had this post in my bookmarks, it’s got lots of great ideas:

    also http://www.mysweetcopenhagen.com/

    All the best for a great visit.3 years ago

  • Jackie: I’m so excited for you! I’m heading there myself in May, and I cannot wait, for many of the reasons you articulated. Looking forward to hearing your take (and getting recommendations) when you return!3 years ago

  • Fiona: This sounds like a wonderful trip. I also discovered the idea of hygge in a cookbook – a lovely idea to bear in mind in the depths of winter. In the same book I also came across a Swedish saying: gravlax should be made in silence, in coolness and shadow. I thought that was quite a bewitching idea!3 years ago

  • Marvy links, Shauna, thank you!

    Fiona, That’s cookbook poetry! 🙂 I love the idea of going to Copenhagen in the depths of winter when hygge will be in full force. We shall see!3 years ago

  • Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas: I hope you have a wonderful trip! I was in Copenhagen a while ago…I think it was 7 years ago, but I can still remember seeing hundreds and hundreds of bikes in the city, not locked up, and asking my dad why people didn’t lock their bikes. My dad told me that it was because there is a societal respect for other people’s things and they generally don’t get stolen. I thought that was so amazing, and I wish it were like that in the US too. I love this idea of the hygge too. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip!3 years ago

  • Rachel: I’m so excited for you! I was able to visit Copenhagen in 2011…and instantly loved it! It’s a place that’s simultaneously gray and bright at the same time…where people still eat outdoors in the chilly air (the patios at restaurants have heaters and blankets!) and ride great bikes with “baskets” big enough for children. My husband and I have tried to integrate hygge into our lives ever since (it does make PA winters even better). Be prepared for a new obsession with candles, and have fun!3 years ago

  • Amy: I’m Danish and this makes me so happy — I’ve never read of the hygge concept but I love it. I hope you have a fantastic trip! I can’t wait to see your photos.3 years ago

  • Amanda Bretz: You totally sold me on the Danes and the hygge way of life 🙂
    Your trip sounds like it is going to be amazing. Have a great time, can’t wait to read about your travels!3 years ago

  • Lana: One of my best friends is a Dane (We call her the Great Dane Dame!) and she glows with happiness. That, along with her healthy lifestyle and the sweetness in how she orders “wanilla” milkshakes are just a few of the reasons I feel blessed to have her in my circle of friends. Enjoy yourself. Eat too much. Wander. Come back filled with a renewed sense of life and tell us all about it! XO3 years ago

  • molly: Oh, Sarah, HOORAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    First, I am half Danish, and yet know almost nothing of this half. (Not talkative ones, my Danes.) My grandmother grew up in a town (Viborg, South Dakota), pop. 700 and change, that STILL PUBLISHED A DANISH NEWSPAPER in 1999!

    That said, I know precisely what you mean, of being drawn to the Lotta Jansdotter-esque coziness of it all. I don’t know how to say ‘je ne sais quoi’ in Danish, but they’ve got it down cold, in my opinion.

    Oh, and also, for seven years, my kids attended a preschool in Seattle that had the “no bad weather, only bad clothes” as its one and only motto. Loved it. Don’t know its origin, either, but the preschool Director of 30 years was Norwegian. Hmmm….

    Have a wonderful, wonderful trip. I love a girl who chooses to go to Copenhagen in January! Bring it on. Stay warm. Drink up every last drop.

    Safe travels, happy hygge!

    M3 years ago

  • Vanessa: Hi Sarah,

    Happy to hear of your upcoming adventures to Denmark! Never been there myself, but used to live in Sweden and love the Scandinavian culture and way of life. Wanted to share a magazine I read over here in England that you could probably get on iPad which is all about slowing down and enjoying life’s little joys – http://www.thesimplethings.com/

    Have a great trip! Look forward to seeing some photos.3 years ago

  • Gemma: I’ve been to Copenhagen a couple of times and it is such a great city. I would love to go again and make it over to Malmo for the day. Have a great trip!3 years ago

  • Ewa: I’m sooo sharing it with a friend whose house and lifestyle has been an embodiment of hygge for me. I just didn’t know the term:)3 years ago

  • Julie: How WONDERFUL!!! Hope you have the most magical time. My friend Ashley went in September and did a great recap: http://meetmeinphiladelphia.blogspot.com/2012/09/traveling-to-copenhagen.html.

    Happy travels!!!3 years ago

  • Liza in Ann Arbor: My friend grew up in Denmark and she uses that expression all the time (though it sounds more like “hyug-lee” from her). Have fun in Copenhagen! I’d love to go sometime as well.3 years ago

  • Anna: I studied abroad in Copenhagen for a semester…wow, 9 years ago now! Living with a family I learned all about having a hyggelig home. They really do go through those bulk bag of tealights from ikea like water. I suggest strolling along the stroget, going to the Viking museum, frederiksborg castle, drinking glogg, eating traditional smorrebrod, watching the changing of the guard at amalienborg palace, shopping at George Jensen…have a blast!3 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltophausfrau: Well I’m very very jealous. Please report on all your finds and findings. I want to know about what you are eating and the stylish dishes you find, in particular, if you are taking notes here!

    Though not Danes or Danish, I’m also big into Lotta Jansdotter and Marimekko (so, skando-style still) – both basically demi-gods pour moi!

    Safe and happy travels!3 years ago

  • MaryAnne: How fabulous Sarah – have a beautiful trip. I can’t wait to see photos and your ideas for hygge!3 years ago

  • Alyssa: I am just thrilled for you that you’re going! This is marvelous!! I hope you have the most splendid of times and I really can’t wait to read the delightful things you’ll have to say when you get back.
    For now, I’ll hold onto the idea of hygge in my heart and home. (with having just moved into a new house, that might be my word of the year!)
    Enjoy!3 years ago

  • Ali: I can’t wait to see your pictures and hear all about your trip! Have a wonderful time!
    http://www.40tasks.blogspot.com3 years ago

  • Kate: Wrap up warm as we are going through a real cold spell at the moment. I would recommend taking the train up to Helsingor ( about 30 minutes) and have a look around Hamltet’s castle. A lovely little town with a market and wine museum! You can even take a boat over the sound to Helsingborg, again it only takes a short time.3 years ago

  • Art & Lemons: Have a wonderful trip Sarah! Love the idea of hygge. I don’t have any Copenhagen recommendations (I’ve never been) but saw this Scandinavian dinner party menu on Saveur’s site and thought of you. Can’t wait to read about your trip.

    Here’s the menu link: http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/Scandinavian-Dinner-Party3 years ago

  • Lien: How exciting. I’m married to a Dane and we were in Copenhagen last July. I’m sure you’ll find it but illums boglihus (next to or across from illums) is Scandinavian homewares mecca. I bought so much stuff in my last trip. Even with the high taxes in Denmark, my favourite brands were still cheaper!3 years ago

  • Lana: One more daaaaaaaaay!!!3 years ago

  • Chiara: So happy for you! It must be really exciting, hope you find lots of inspiration. I was in the Netherlands about a month ago, and was delighted to see how relaxed is life there. Hve a great trip!3 years ago

  • You ladies are amazing, and I’m so touched by all your well-wishing! I have to admit, I haven’t been this excited since I left on my honeymoon! Bag is packed, spirits are high!3 years ago

  • Good Things! | Coffee & Sunshine: […] I loved this post about Sarah’s Danish dreams and the concept of hygge. My family is Danish and I’m dying to visit and learn more about […]3 years ago

  • SarahJ: Geez, I sometimes feel as if you’re reading my mind. I’ve been obsessed with the Scandinavian lifestyle. One fun thing: the Swedish tradition of fika: afternoon coffee with cakes. I can’t wait to see what inspiration you bring back!3 years ago

  • Mills: I used to travel for work a lot among the Scandinavian countries, I totally understand the draw. I loved it. Your excitement in this post is contagious and has me itching to go back. Can’t wait to here more about your trip!3 years ago

  • Mills: oops, meant hear and well, if I take the time to correct it, actually, it should be read. 😉

    have a wonderful time!3 years ago

  • Maggie: Have a wonderful trip! It sounds like you’re in for a wonderful trip. We are planning our first trip to Denmark as well this summer, so I can’t wait to read your advice about places to visit.3 years ago

  • Grounding, Sure-Footed, and Simple « Pink of Perfection: […] dcopt = "dcopt=ist;"} else {var dcopt = ""} if (17>dctile) document.write('n'); « Danish Dreams, Coming True February 8, 2013 […]3 years ago

  • When Senses Slide Wide Open « Pink of Perfection: […] was the heart of my Life Design Inspiration Trip. I kept my eyes open for the sights and flavors that, forgive me if this sounds a tad melodramatic, […]3 years ago

  • The Best Things on the Internet: March 8 | Gab White: […] all ooh-ing and ahh-ing over this Danish interior design. Also, I really wish there was an English word for hygge – which means roughly to make an […]3 years ago

  • Alyssa: I came across this article about Swedish “fika” and thought you might enjoy.

    Thinking of you, Sarah!

    -Alyssa1 year ago

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