Hilary Fannin: No hygge please, we’re Irish
The cosy concept has a natural fit with Danes but shiny premature Christmas is more us
“No wonder it doesn’t take much more than candlelight to illuminate Danish winter nights”
Holy cow, there are less than 50 days left until Christmas! Quick, someone get Santa out of detox and start scraping the marzipan elves off the bar-room floor.
I can’t stand it. The local shop is coming down under the weight of selection boxes, there are tins of biscuits blocking the paltry November light from dribbling through the tinsel-weary windows, and the sound system is tentatively starting to extrude Westlife’s Christmas oeuvre. It’s a state of affairs I find about as festive and cheery as a stocking full of fairy phlegm.
Why do we do this to ourselves? We’ve barely scraped the mould off the withering pumpkins and now were being asked to blow the dust off the shagging manger. It’s exhausting. It’s not good for people. Let’s just stick with glum winter drudgery, relieved by an occasional box set and a Friday-night bottle of Malbec, until at least mid-December.
The Danes, who are subtly colonising a state formerly known as “wellbeing”, by flooding the lifestyle market with scented candles and magnificently illustrated tomes on the art of hygge, seem to have a more sanguine, less hectic approach to, well, life actually, but certainly the festive season.
Danes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve with a plum-stuffed roast duck, some Nordic soul-searching over the grog bottle and a bit of dancing around the tree, leaving them free to spend the day itself in bed with a thriller. (Or, if your thriller has a hangover, you could always embrace a gory detective novel.)
State of grace
What do you mean, you don’t know what hygge is? Wake up and smell the aromatic coffee! Hygge, variously pronounced “who-gah” and “huggy” (if you can’t be bothered to make the effort) is everywhere. It’s a lifestyle trend that may yet knock mindfulness and Swedish meatballs right out of the park.
The term hygge, which apparently has no literal translation, describes a feeling of serenity and cosy contentment, and you don’t need big bucks or big ideas to experience it. It is a state of grace generally induced by candlelight, wood fires, a pair of reindeer slippers and the aforementioned noggin of grog, or even a mug of steaming hot chocolate, shared with friends and family or imbibed alone under the duvet with a tincture of Bach in the background.
The Danes know winter. Hygge, it seems, is about embracing the season, bringing some fragrant wintry calm into the house rather than spending long dark hours queuing up to leave a car park with the last of the Cheeky Charlies in the boot. And fear not: if your reindeer slippers have been eaten by a pack of roving llamas in Westlife pyjamas, whistling Seasons in the Sun through their yellowing incisors, a pair of socks and a bale of briquettes will suffice.
Presumably, hygge, although predicated on warm pastries and a snug yet clutter-free aesthetic (which means you don’t fall over muddy football boots or an asphyxiating cat while you lash into the kitchen to refill your grog cup), is less about the accoutrements and more about the mindset.
It’s for this very reason that I really can’t see hygge, a simple, wholesome concept which has given pleasure to millions of well-educated, naturally blonde Danish people, having the same therapeutic impact on the residents of this damp island.
Mouldering boy bands
Danes are happy; survey after survey sees them scale to the top of the happiness index. And why wouldn’t they be? There exists in Denmark a “solidarity system” designed to ensure that almost no one falls into economic despair.
Danes pay high taxes; in return, they enjoy excellent maternity leave and unemployment benefit, universal healthcare, buckets of paid leave every year so that they can spend time with their families and, oh yeah, free education. (And when I say free education, I mean the kind that allows your kids to go away to college and live and study in light-filled student accommodation, draping themselves over their flatpack desks chewing on smoked herrings while they discuss Hans Christian Andersen’s dark side, rather than getting thin and pale in coruscatingly expensive private rentals with damp spores in the cornflakes.)
They say – and who knows how long this will last given the current state of global politics – that while it is difficult to become very rich in Denmark, no one is allowed to be poor.
No wonder it doesn’t take much more than candlelight to illuminate their winter nights.
We’ve a long long road ahead to get hygge. Is it any wonder we drown our sorrows in premature Christmases and the seasonal excrescences of mouldering old boy bands?