Comfort & Joy: Finding the Inner Warmth of Winter Through Hygge

Photos by Laura Mazurek.

Photos by Laura Mazurek.

by Hillary Rain

I will always remember the mornings I woke as a child to find ice crystals on the inside of my bedroom window, the sun shining through, cold and beautiful, like light through etched glass. 

Sometimes I scratched my name into it, or a heart, but most often my frozen nose sent me tumbling out of bed, shrieking as feet hit the frigid floor. I headed straight to the living room where I hoped my father had risen before me to load the stove with wood and flame. 

We’d hover above it, my sisters and I, scorching our faces while our backsides grew numb with cold, then turn around for the relief of heat crawling up our backs. And then, bowls of oatmeal and molasses to fill our bellies, socks and mittens and scarves layered on, and outside to break the ice in buckets so our goats and chickens could drink. 

In a vintage farmhouse, built without modern amenities, one grows intimate with nature. The way winter presses herself deep into the bone, or skin grows damp with humidity and rain. The way January breath holds itself before you when you speak. The falling asleep, shivering, after finding the perfect tent for your nose under a blanket where you are warmish, but can still breathe. Or, in summer, lying as naked as can be, slick with sweat, fighting between mosquitoes and one layer of sheet which was even, sometimes, too much. 

Nature is a wild mistress.

In living with the winter elements there is a strange sort of surrender that happens: first, you hate it, because you feel helpless and always, always cold. You might quietly swear that you will never be cold when you’re a grownup and can have the kind of heat which comes through vents like magic. You will have socks without holes and a bedroom where ice doesn’t form on the inside of windows overnight. But then life settles in, the routine of it—day after day like trudging through snow, night after night with sister bodies pressed together for warmth in sleep. You get through it, because that’s what you do. And slowly, without realizing it, a kind of living beauty emerges—distant and bleak at first, but it’s the sort of alchemical beauty that means something because it dwells in unconventional places, just for you. 

And when you find it, it stays with you…

While I no longer experience the winter’s chill of my childhood, it has given me a tender empathy for those who dread the cold seasons, the long dark nights of the year or the soul, the razor winds that bite the cheeks. Those who wander streets without shelter, at the mercy of nature and a neighbor’s good will. Those who struggle to find joy in their days without the serotonin of a friendly sun. Those without full, warm bellies and clean, soft beds. My gratitude for the blessings I enjoy is not without a hunger, lingering and urgent, to bring comfort to those intimate with nature in their own way, who have not yet discovered unconventional beauty, perhaps because I have not done all I can to show them.

Hygge

As I look for ways to do this, I am inspired by one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark, and their cultural concept called Hygge. Pronounced “hue-gah,” hygge is the art of comfort, especially in dark winter seasons. It is finding enjoyment through simple living and everyday grace. “It’s a way of life that looks at a long, dark, cold winter and says ‘you are to be savored, not just survived.’”—Alison Dunn, @thesanguineskep It is presence with and presence to—gentleness, intimacy, warmth, coziness, comforting rituals, loved ones. Hygge embodies our most sacred dreams of home.

“It’s a way of life that looks at a long, dark, cold winter and says ‘you are to be savored, not just survived.’”—Alison Dunn

How can hygge help us savor winter? How could I have savored winter as a little girl who etched her name on her bedroom windows in ice? How do you help those exposed to the elements find some kind of hope as their toes freeze and you hear winter in their lungs? How do you savor the dark winter seasons of the heart and a soul’s shadow journey? How do you cross the bridge from dwindling survival to the warm and leaping fires of joy?

Embracing hygge as a way through what could otherwise be a long, dreary season—of the year or of the soul—means just as much to the spirit as to the body, if not more. I believe the secret is found in a willingness to be present to pain just as much as to comfort. If we stay present to what is, opening our hearts and allowing beauty to find us, we will be guided through. Moment by moment. And these sacred moments bear graceful witness and gentle compassion for the ache of winter living. If we learn to embrace it ourselves, both the ache and the way, we can learn how to share it with others. 

Through simple connection, nourishment, and presence, we can help walk each other home.

Here are five simple ways to add hygge to your life.

1. Gather your roots—stock up on root veggies like carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets, onions & garlic. Wash, chop, and toss them in a large baking dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Roast until tender and darkened, stirring as needed. Roasting roots in the oven will not only fill your home with mouthwatering warmth, they will fill your body with nurturing comfort. You can enjoy them as a side dish, leave them a little crunchy for snacky finger food, or eat them on their own! You can also blend them into soups or stew, add them to your salad, stuff them into enchiladas or a baked potato, or fold them into an omelet.   

2. Nest—create a cozy nook for yourself and your loved ones. Arrange plush pillows on the floor, make indoor “tents” with twinkle-lights and warm-colored sheets draped from the ceiling. Keep soft blankets always within reach, along with a wood-board of nourishing snacks—nuts, apple slices, roasted roots, pumpkin seeds or dried cranberries—for “grazing.” Make popcorn and watch a movie from your nest. Sip herbal tea. Read books, to yourself or your kids, or journal.

3. Light candles—first thing in the morning, even if you don’t have much time before work, light a candle before you begin your day. The element of fire invites warmth to your spirit. And for those not blessed with a fireplace, locate or create a safe surface area in your home and arrange a group of candles for a fireplace effect. Be creative! Vary sizes and heights, or even colors, for a beautiful and warm display. 

4. Make coffee dates—and follow through. Whether you meet your partner or a friend for espresso at your local coffeehouse, or brew your own at home and open up Skype, connect with someone you love at least once a week. Talk—really talk, not just about bills or the kids, business or the weather. Be willing to be vulnerable. Meet heart to heart. Discover something new about each other. Explore another layer of yourself.

5. Stock your car with blankets—for yourself and for others. Wintery weather can make driving and fulfilling simple errands a difficult task. Keeping blankets in your car can help ease the cold, windy, wet or icy shock of running in and out of stores. If you ever get stuck in ice or snow or run out of gas, they will help keep you cozy until help arrives. And in your travels, if you come across a poor shivering soul, having a soft, fresh blanket to hand over can be the warmest gift.

What other ideas do you have? Tag me on Instagram at @LushFolk and let me know! I’d love to see how you bring coziness and comfort to your days.


HILLARY RAIN

WRITER | ARTIST | SEEKER (AND SEER) OF UNCONVENTIONAL BEAUTY + EVOCATIVE TRUTH

I hold sacred space for creative and spiritual women through my unique and sometimes unconventional approach to life coaching. My clients feel like friends, and we connect via cozy conversations. Other ongoing projects include photography, meditative vocal work, and more. Stay informed through my weeklyish love-letters and see what I'm up to these days on Instagram.


*This article originally appeared in Issue No. 3 of the Bohemian Collective Magazine. Available now!