Little Book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking

It's Christmas Eve, so what better time to talk about a book entirely about coziness?  I'm sure no Howling Frog readers have been able to avoid the hygge trend that swept the English-speaking world a couple of years ago.  I must confess that I mostly rolled my eyes at it, because hygge is a Danish thing, and I spent a year in Denmark, and therefore I already know about things hyggelige and I don't need a lifestyle editor in a magazine telling me about an expensive blanket I need to buy in order to achieve it.  But when this book came across the donation table, I saw that it was by an actual Danish guy and I thought I'd take a peek to find out if I should enjoy it or toss it.

And I enjoyed it.

So here we are.  An entire book about hygge.  And what is that (and how do you pronounce it*), exactly?  As most people have probably already heard, at hygge is to be cozy, relaxed, and friendly all at once.  You can hygge by yourself, but usually you'll do it with your family or best friends.  If you're hanging out with people you know really well, completely relaxed, with a few indulgent goodies on board and a minimum of screens lit up, you're doing fine.  Don't forget the candles!**  Hygge is not formal and it costs no money; if somebody tries to tell you that you need special accessories, they are wrong.

Wiking is the head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, so he's put a lot of thought into this.  He's ready to prove, with statistics and charts, that periodically shutting the world out and focusing on simple pleasures with people we love is good for us.  Thus there are recipes, suggestions, and defenses of Danish home-decorating preferences.

Hygge can happen at any time of year, but winter is the absolute prime season.  Spending a day playing in the snow and then the evening relaxing with a book while a storm rages outside is pretty well the epitome of hygge, and Christmas (jul) is the most hyggeligt season of them all.  I got to feel pretty smug about the jul chapter, since I can weave julehjerter with the best of them and always have my own julekalenderlys.  Plus I can sing all the words to all the songs in the greatest TV Christmas countdown TV show ever made, Nissebanden i Grønland (Christmas Elves in Greenland).

julekalenderlys -- an advent calendar in meltable form

julehjerter -- woven pretties

So, yes, probably the thing I liked most about this book was the familiarity and nostalgia.  Wiking even mentioned that his favorite TV show of all time is the universally known drama Matador, which I now want to see again.  It's set 1929 - 1947 and follows people in a small town, where a new guy shows up and wants to start a business.  The town elites don't want to let him in, so he decides to crush them all -- though the next generation has different ideas.  Wiking notes that everybody in Denmark can quote this show, which must be true, because even I can.  You can watch it here but there are no subtitles available, so that's not very useful to anybody who doesn't speak Danish.

However, we can all remember to slow down, light a candle or two, and enjoy our people while we have them.  Which is really what Wiking is aiming for.  I decided to remember to have more candles and to freak out less.

And so, have a lovely Christmas, en glædelig jul, and I'll see you afterwards.


*Pronunciation: the best I've been able to come up with is to pronounce the y as you do the eu in Teuton; it's not an oo sound but kind of tighter.  Put your tongue up near the roof of your mouth and purse your lips up so there's a little rectangle open.  The e on the end is pronounced as a sort of schwa.  There.  Hygge.

** A note on candles: Danes like candles more than anybody, and consider them a necessity.  But they don't like scented candles at all.  Should you wish to indulge in candles in a Danish style, the cheapest box of tea lights will do just fine.


  1. It sounds like you had a delightful read. The idea of hygge is so appealing to me--the thoughts of cozy simplicity, especially this time of year. I hope you've had a lovely Christmas as well.


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