Winter came early this year while I was still harboring a wish for some sort of Indian summer. And its emergence was less than genteel: the high temps plummeted into the 20s right after the dreaded time change that robs us of evening light. We woke up from naps only to discover a dark, hard, tundra-like land beyond our windows. That first week after the time change the winds just howled, and no matter how hard we tried, both boys were in bed by six and up before 5 am. In the mornings, one would yell and wake the other and me, or the squeak of hardwood floors creaked so loudly we all may have never again fallen asleep in our fishbowl of darkness.
I texted friends — could we all collectively have SAD? Rocking a face mask, one day I jogged to the frozen deserted beach and just sat and watched ice chunks. I missed the breezy life we had outdoors. And amid this it became really clear that Duncan needed some intervention to get him to nap beyond the cat nap. I was used to Duncan’s up and down moves as a baby, but now, since it took us 20 minutes to leave the house, by the time we suited up, he had to stay for another nap. Even our sleep consultant (albeit located in Arizona) didn’t get my fierce loathing of the cold–“bring your baby outside to prolong his awake windows,” she suggested. No such luck, and our new double jogging stroller sat resolutely folded up in the ice cold garage. One day I ran into my friend Lauren doing an event for her awesome blog The Sister Project. She suggested I write about the hygge (pronounced ho-gah) — that trendy word the Danes originated as their means to get through winter – a “feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cozy, charming or special.” Yeah, right.
Learily, I thought, oh geez, is this a marketing scheme to get readers to just buy junk? Already the world is full of bloggers posing in their perfectly adorned holiday themed-homes with flannel, mugs of hot cocoa and wool socks. The consumerism of the holidays already has me nauseated — and everywhere I looked, hygge was popping up as an odious consumerist answer to the cold (sweaters, security systems, & magazine features — giving you lists of things to buy, etc.), all to fix seasonal funk.
But then, duh, I realized it’s really more of an attitude of appreciation for what one already has as a means to get through winter. A cup of coffee, a ball-filled old sweater, friends who come over and drink wine, a book of poems, and, holy cow, even going outside. The Danes only get light from about 9AM to 3PM, but still manage to be the happiest nation in the world.
Gradually, we worked to achieve that state of winter contentment and conviviality. I ordered matching Patagonia coats– baby Smartwool socks, monogrammed stroller blankets and decided, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes”. On one Deer Park venture in search of a crane for Ian to ogle, a woman looked at me in horror and muttered it’s so cold.” I’m like okay, “Lady, have you heard of down?”
We overbooked our social calendar, and Duncan started taking looong naps. We toured the holiday lights in Wilmette, we lit the Menorah at friends’ houses and gave gifts, we put up a Christmas tree, and watched Ian marvel at it. My parents brought us a new coffee pot. We build countless forts in the basement, and relished our richness in throw blankets. We just accepted that each trip to Mariano’s resulted in 15% (i.e. four bottles) off wine we could nightly mull. We all took turns hugging Duncan (well, Ian laid on him lots, his version of hugging) and danced to Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour.” We grabbed every chance we got in the light.
I’m still cursing the cold. But I’m trying to laugh as I turn my children into veritable Ralphies just to get them safely out the door. But I’m grappling with the definition of hygge — and trying my best to find happiness and holiness in all that comes within this season of darkness, hibernation, and, yes, even light. For surely the hard-earned lesson of frigid Scandinavian winters is that “all you really need to get through difficult times is shelter, sustenance, kith, and kin.” And that is light aplenty.