Hygge our way!

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My interest in the Danish word “Hygge” was well and truly peaked recently. In the same week I read an article about the art of hygge in the “Inflight” magazine whilst on a flight and then I found it featured in a popular women’s home magazine where they discussed the Danish love of candles and cosy items in the home, and finally it was used as a ‘hook’ to sell home ware products and home fragrances on a well-known online retail website.

The word hygge (sounds a bit like “hooga”) roughly translates to cosiness. According visitdenmark.co.uk, hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. In reality however, it means so much more. Fathomaway.com uses a tongue in cheek guidebook, “A  Zenophobe’s Guide to the Danes” to explain that translating hygge as cosiness is inadequate and simplistic, as they say that hygge has more to do with people’s behaviour towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one.

Danes are often considered to be the happiest people in the world so it made me keen to draw parallels with my own South African roots and find out what hygge might mean to us.

I can picture a scene from my own childhood in the middle of a cold wet winter in Cape Town. The family would have gathered around a roaring fire, our cats would have draped themselves comfortably over the sofa and easy chairs around the room and one of my brothers would be playing chess with my dad whilst the other one looked on awaiting his turn. My mum and I would probably be watching the tv and I remember a wonderful aura of contentedness in our togetherness. Could that have been hygge?

The word that best encapsulates the art of hygge South African style would have to be “Geselligheid” which in the Afrikaans to English dictionary means………. Social!

Last weekend we celebrated a grandmother’s 90th birthday. The family flew from all parts of the globe to Switzerland to share in the festivities. The last time we had all been together at the same time was 18 years previously so it was a truly special occasion.

On our final day together we gathered in the warm early autumn sunshine for a barbecue or braaivleis. A neighbour arrived just before the fire was lit with the contents of a large box of left over wine from a South African wine tasting event that she had organised the day before. She had very cleverly deduced that we would appreciate the leftover bottles of excellent wine. As the barbecue got under way the two self-appointed chefs debated loudly as how best to cook the succulent Swiss sausage and homemade burgers, the younger adults discussed the merits of each wine and everyone seemed very comfortable, relaxed and happy to be together and belong to the family unit. Definitely a hygge moment, with an unmistakably South African twist.

For South Africans, “Gesellig” would involve a crackling fire, tasty food, good quality wine and plenty of cheeky banter with friends and family. Now does that sound like the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one to you?……………certainly does to me!

Whilst we may have different words for hygge, and different cultural and familial traditions, the art of enjoying the good things in life with good friends is shared by people the world over. (posted by Liz)






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