We used to live in Minneapolis where we gained an appreciation for the Danish idea of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga). Even though Minnesota in general is more Swedish and Norwegian (and Eric and I both have Norwegian, not Danish, ancestry), the Scandinavian culture in general and weather definitely are conducive to a hygge-centric lifestyle. Hygge is sometimes roughly translated as “cozy”. After a few winters in Minneapolis (and a few before that in Wisconsin), I think that a hygge way of living and being is crucial to survival (physically, mentally, and emotionally) in those cold climates.
When we bought our house there, one of the first things we did was to have a wood-burning stove installed into the fireplace. On the short, dark days of winter, the girls and I would often lie down on a huge pillow in front of the fire and take a late afternoon nap together. When A was in preschool at the time, she and I would sometimes walk through feet of snow to her class. It wasn’t quite up hill both ways and I had toasty warm “mukluks” on my feet, but the temperatures were definitely well below zero on some of those days. And while we also had the option of driving, to drive both ways every day would definitely have felt like winter had defeated us. But had we not had that warm fire, a snack, and a cup of tea to look forward to, we definitely would not have been able to make that walk.
But Hygge doesn’t entirely translate where we live now, in Maryland, just outside where I grew up in DC. It is a bit swampy here, even in the winter. My sister and her family still live in Minneapolis and last winter they installed a hot tub in their backyard, which is a very hygge thing to do. On a recent winter day, she was talking about her kids using the hot tub. It happened to be a boggy day here in Maryland in spite of the calendar and I had to admit to her that while the whole scenario of climbing into a hot tub on a dry, frigid Minnesota day was very appealing, the idea of doing the same here in Maryland was, well, gross.
We are nominally hygge here. This Christmas the older girls wanted to buy presents for everyone in our extended family. It was very generous and thoughtful of them, but we had to help them reign it in a little bit. We all finally settled on them making soy-based candles for family members. We ordered this kit (they contributed a little to the cost) and we spent a few afternoons melting wax, calculating percentages, taking temperature readings, and mixing in the fragrances. They also made and attached little labels to each candle. And the end result were handmade gifts that were super hygge.
In the picture at the beginning of this post is one of the candles that we made together. I’ve been picking up knitting again and a warm drink and something to eat round out my attempt at a hygge picture, which 10yo Ms A called, “very instagramable.” (Clear evidence that she’s been around her older cousins lately.) True hygge is very hard to capture in a picture. In fact, as I settled into my chair to knit by some warm hand-poured scented candle light, a cup of tea, and a bite to eat, as soon as I picked up my phone to take the photo, I sort of disrupted the whole hygge moment. Like most good things in life and any decent “lifestyle” philosophy, being absorbed in the moment or task and being present to the people who are around you is central to “hygge”. For me, my camera can often disrupt that.
And this, too, can become one of the challenges of homeschooling, but it also one of its gifts. We are often challenged to take a step back and to let things take their course, directed by where the children’s interests lie. It’s hard, at time, to not pick up the proverbial camera, to compose the picture, and to overly obsess on whether or not what we are teaching and doing is “right” and best. And, of course, the moment we do, we disrupt those moments of true and genuine learning. But there are moments when we are able to put down the need to evaluate, when we can simply calculate the percentages, pour the candles, read the book, give the gift, ride the bike, play the game. Those are the moments of hygge. And they are lovely.