By Bridget Delaney
“Hygge” is huge in Denmark – but in Australia, I’m not too sure we do winter so well.
When hygge went global it was seen as the antidote to the other news of the time: all the good, dead celebrities, the toxic American presidential race, the divisiveness of Brexit and the torpor of the Australian election campaign. Hygge was open fires and rosy cheeks and steaming mugs of hot drinks. Put simply, as described by The New Yorker, it’s the Danish obsession with getting cosy.
There’s not just a physical element to hygge – the clean, tasteful Scandi design and the hectic patterned sweaters. There’s also an emotional or metaphysical aspect at play. Hygge is a feeling of comfort and wellbeing that comes when the weather gets cold and we gather our kin to our kiln and hunker down.
Since moving from Sydney to the central Victorian highlands, one of the coldest places in Australia, I’m trying to form some sort of positive relationship with the weather. As I am typing this, I’m wearing gloves because the computer keyboard is too cold to touch with bare skin.
Taking a lead from the Danes, I’m trying my own form of hygge. It’s hygge without the heating. Hygge without the blond wood decor or a car to get to the cosy log cabin. It’s the hygge that is the walk along the shoulder of a highway, your breath turning as solid as your socks. It’s hygge where a hot meal left for a few minutes on a bench becomes unappealingly chilled.
It’s rubbish hygge. Well, at least that’s how it feels. But maybe it’s just how Australians, with our houses not designed for the cold, do hygge.
Australian hygge is taking several showers a day because you are cold (but wish you could shower with clothes on because for those seconds before you get in the shower are truly terrible). It’s to be woken every morning at 4.30am by a cold front moving through your bedroom – your body activating a sort of primitive alarm system that says if you don’t get another blanket, you will freeze to death.
Australian hygge is consuming double the calories that you would in summer because your body is like a broken furnace that won’t work unless its fuel load is constantly topped up.
And it’s actually working from bed (if you can) because it is too cold to get out.
Australian hygge is worrying that you are going to die in a cycling accident because your hands have frozen to the handlebars and cannot flex to turn on the brakes. It’s gathering around one inefficient and expensive heat source like it is the Oracle of Delphi, or sleeping in overcoats, or feeling envy when you see someone wearing earmuffs (“where do you get those from?” you ask yourself).
And there are other, darker forms of seeking warmth. Helen Garner– that quintessential Melbourne author, wrote: “Winter was a bad time in that town. Streets got longer and greyer, and it was simply not possible to manage without some sort of warmth.”
The warmth she was talking about was heroin – hygge on the dark side of the moon.
This is the first winter in my new house. Well my new, old house. It was built 157 years ago and has one heating source that is trying its best but still makes me feel as though I’m living outdoors. Here the winters can be sharp and fierce, and walking outside in the bright chill of the morning can feel like stepping into the blade of a knife.
I went to the shops yesterday (the wind slapping my face as I cycled in, as I cried “get out of my way – it’s a hygge emergency!”) and bought ugg boots, gloves and a hot water bottle. There had been a run on electric blankets.
The hot water bottle now lies like a flabby shrunken torso on my bed. It has its own hygge jumper – with pink and green snowflake patterns and a rollneck. It’s more prepared for winter than I am.
A decade or more in Sydney can’t teach you the ways of hygge. It doesn’t get cold enough.
Yeah, sure, sandals get swapped for uggs at some point in June, but the shift to winter doesn’t seem that dramatic. It just gets a bit darker and colder – only by degrees.
Emerging from an ocean swim in June on a mild winter’s day in Bondi would have made me ponder the nature of time. Is it possible that years could slip by quicker, almost unnoticed, if the change of seasons are not marked in a sudden, declarative way? Sure there’s the heat and sweat of February and the late-summer storms and springtime rains … but somehow all this feels like just weather, rather than an actual season.
So I came to the highlands unprepared. My guess is that your own hygge gets developed over time, refined over many winters.
I see it around, in the cosy pubs with the AFL on and a fire roaring. Or bracing walks on bright days (wearing appropriately warm clothing) with the smell of wood fires burning and the promise of a warm room and hot bowl of soup on your return. I’m sure I’ll see it in Tasmania next week at Dark Mofo where they have embraced the deepest, darkest depths of winter with a festival that celebrates the cold, and the dark – and includes such hygge-type things as a massive winter feast with wild pigs being roasted over an enormous pit fires.
And what could be more hygge than a visit to my town’s cinema last week to see the Iranian film The Salesman?
The guts of the cinema, built in 1854, are broad and cavernous, promising the usual cold, unpleasant experience I was used to at home.
Yet there were comfortable blankets and long leather couches, cushions and heaters and warm fresh popcorn and red wine made locally. For two hours I stretched out and watched the movie – feeling so cosy that I struggled to stay awake.
It was bliss. It was hygge.
Bridget Delaney is a senior writer for The Guardian Australia. She previously worked as a lawyer and journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph in London and CNN in the United States. She is the author of two books: The Restless Life and Wild Things.