Well, this goes down as the winter I discovered koselig, a name both for something I already experience and for something I want to cultivate. In December I read a range of articles on koselig (and its sister hygge) to understand it. This one seems to be the one that started it all: The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter. Norwegian koselig is a kind of coziness, but this definition of the Danish hygge helped me understand:
hygge (n.) a complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things. 1
Other northern European cultures cultivate their version of koselig (in Dutch gezelligheid and in German gemütlichkeit) especially through the winter. Canada doesn’t seem to have a corresponding concept but most of us in North America have experienced it at some time associated with Thanksgiving or Christmas. It is the name for that mysterious sense of community-wide bonhomie, and that desire for comfort foods, good company, and a crackling fire. We especially feel it when “the weather outside is frightful but inside it’s so delightful.”
When I moved to Vermont from Maryland I immediately gained about two months of non-summer. Winter is on my mind from late August to the beginning of May. From first withering frost to the golden lace of the hillsides bursting into leaf, winter is arriving or lingering for eight months. Yikes! To paraphrase that song of barely hidden panic, “We need a little koselig, right this very minute…”
When I read this article, In Defense of Domesticity, I realized I already had some of these practices. We eat together and tell stories. We listen to good music. We keep the woodstoves going, and last winter I specifically sought a woodstove with glass doors so we could see the fire. I orient the couch to face it, creating a comfortable place to read and to watch the wildlife at the birdfeeders. I always light an oil lamp when we gather for a meal and I light candles when I first rise in the dark. Candle light is so much easier on the soul first thing on a dark morning, is it not?
This winter I am experimenting with this new (to me) idea in five ways:
- lighting candles more than just for dinner
- inviting people over for a casual dinner frequently
- getting the family to play games (not so easy when we are all so entrenched in front of our screens)
- getting the family together to continue learning how to sight-read [On a tangent, I learned this Christmas that I have five basses, and two sopranos. Three, if you count me but don’t, because I’d rather supply the alto line. One bass, thanks to his ongoing education at St. Johns College, can sing the tenor part if it doesn’t swing in the rafters too long. But still. Five.]
- making sure I alternate long hard work with moments of comfort and withdrawal; this is a lot like the rhythm of six days of labor and a sabbath rest
That last point reminds me of what I want to say about the dark side of koselig. We can’t always be comfortable and we shouldn’t want to be. Loving people in our home and beyond takes pains. We should be comfortable going outside our comfort zone. We should work and work hard with all our gifts and skills. We should have the mindset of servants, even if we are called to serve by leading. Sitting by the fire all day isn’t koselig; it’s just lazy.
Also, if koselig is the absence of unpleasantness, there is a temptation not to deal with the truth. Lovingkindness and truth are always matched in the wisest literature. “Speak the truth [but do it] in love,” says Paul in Ephesians. Come on, do we really want Nice? All the time? Not a fan. I like messy people, and I’m grounded enough to handle messy situations. To the extent doing koselig means permanently suppressing the expression of pain, it is unhealthy. I am, however, perfectly fine with a ban on politics at a koselig event. Just…balance, is all I am saying. It can’t be Christmas every day.
And to close, let me share some of the best youtube explanations of hygge, Denmark’s version.
- This definition of hygge was found at: http://other-wordly.tumblr.com/post/17457303359/hygge