How to survive the rest of winter is today’s question. Mainers know that winter has a way of causing us to be snow schlepping around in fur-lined boots at a time when April showers are elsewhere. In the quest to find something interesting and innovating to take me through the remaining winter months, I came across the Danish word “hygge” (pronounced “hoog-gah”). I thought it sounded much like “hug ya” and so had some relationship to the English “hug.” In a sense it does, but it defies a direct translation, similar to the way “meraki” (doing something with soul, creativity, or love) denies a direct translation. Hygge is a sense of feeling comfort and happiness. The word loosely translates as “well-being” and has since its appearance in Danish 18th-century writing.

I understand life from the perspective of feelings, so I reveled in learning hygge conveys warmth and enjoying all that is good in life – again, not much different in that sense than Meraki. It has evolved to mean slowing life down, allow it to have meaning, but not just any meaning. Allow life to have to mean from a heart perspective. Enjoy the small and the great and celebrate each with great love.

Well, what can be more loving and meaningful than gathering around food and sharing what we make or glean from the local store or bakery? Or increasingly more, from online ordering. Actually, there are other moments probably equally as meaningful, but this morning, as I sip my maple coffee, I recall a weekend of friends and family gathered for a birthday celebration. We sat at the kitchen table, migrated to the living room for appetizers, then back to the kitchen and eventually gathered around the dining room table. Maybe more of this celebratory style can bring great happiness everywhere.

My dining room table was set with a place setting for each person, but it is the center of the table that I particularly love. Sometimes I include flowers or other decorative pieces, but most often it is the simplicity of lit candles which greets my guests. Candles create light where darkness wishes to impose.

My hope is the candle’s light will lend warmth and light to our gathering. While I love and long for the coming of summer’s long hours of daylight, I always miss the opportunity candles bring.  Food magazines extoll through photos, the virtues of late summer evening festivities where we are often greeted with candles and tiny lights dangling from trees, creating mystery, coziness, and good cheer.

Do we seek late summer meals to invite the summer day to linger longer and to utilize the impending darkness to appreciate the light and its comfort? 

I think about the charm of hygge, and consider how this feeling is translated into our American way of living.

“Tastes like mom’s”. This is hygge. Now sure, no mom (present company excepted, of course) makes every meal to perfection, but generally, offspring’s taste buds will translate it as such. What remark can be more warming and comforting to both the receiver and the giver?

Likewise, “smells like gramma’s house”. Childhood memories in a bite of Gramma’s pot roast.

Football games with attendee’s hands cupped around steaming servings of hot cocoa and bowls of hot and spicy chili as we chat about the game and inquiring how well life is going.

Local coffee shops with the offering of bagels blanketed with flavorful cream cheese and the occasional layering of lox. The tables are not only placed within but also without as we pull up not only chairs that snug neatly up to the table’s edge but often are found to be in close enough proximity to be inclusive of all who are willing. Laughter and chatter with an occasional exclamation mark the passage of time.

Craft beer – making or drinking – enough said. Cheers!

Vacations including stops at local bakeries to engage in communal cheer while selecting finger-food versions of delicacies as well as a beverage to be enjoyed; perhaps while star gazing from the ocean’s shore or back at our lodging snuggling under the covers with a favorite music selection, or curling up with a book, or a favorite television show.

Hygge is bundling up in coziness, but not necessarily meaning by choice of clothing. It’s spreading the idea that hygge represents – coziness of the heart and good cheer. It isn’t about location, clothing, a particular occasion, or even particular food. It’s the experience.