The Wonder of Hygge

04 Dec 2023

How to prioritize the simple joys and moments of connection this holiday season

By Lisa Van Horne

There is a hustle and bustle, a frenetic energy that is often associated with the holiday season in the United States. Whether we’re being encouraged to hurry to tick the boxes off our shopping lists or rushing to keep up with a calendar teeming with festive events, these pressures can sometimes eclipse the tranquil coziness and warm comforts of the winter season. 

But for Alexandra Gove, owner of Vail Valley’s Hygge Life shop and café, the holidays are an especially opportune time of year to purposefully reduce these stresses and embrace the calm connections that the season facilitates.

“In Danish, hygge is an adjective, a noun and a verb—a state of contentment and the opportunity to invite small moments of comfort and connection into your day,” says Gove. “Rather than the common translation of ‘coziness,’ we view it as a larger appreciation of the people and places that make us feel at ease.”

Gove and her partner, Koen, were conscious of their preference toward this mindset long before they discovered the term “hygge.” After meeting in Vail, the pair moved to Koen’s hometown of Amsterdam, where Alexandra was struck by the slow, intentional and thoughtful style of living that she encountered. 

“People were actually sitting down to enjoy their coffee!” says Gove.

After travels throughout Europe and a continued appreciation for finding “hygge moments” of happy, peaceful feelings alongside good people, Alexandra sought to bring this mindset back to the United States. After moving back to Colorado, Alexandra and Koen began hosting “hygge dinners” and partnering with local chefs, musicians, florists and bartenders to create environments in which guests could experience calm moments of connection. These gatherings were the precursor to the opening of the Hygge Life showroom in 2017—featuring a collection of furniture, lighting, home décor and gifts from designers and makers across Scandinavia, Europe and the United States—followed by their café, where visitors are invited to experience calm moments of enjoyment in their day.

Gove notes that the meaningful memories and cozy feelings so often precipitated by the holidays make it “hygge high season,” and the ideal canvas for practicing this mindset of peaceful joy and serenity in simple pleasures. 

“Traditions such as putting up a Christmas tree, lighting menorah candles, attending a ballet, enjoying a lingering holiday dinner with family and friends—these are all instances that can conjure feelings of hygge in us during the holidays,” says Gove.

The abundant opportunities to gather and connect with loved ones represent yet more chances during the holiday season to slow down and create moments of appreciation for simple, yet meaningful comforts. From adorning your abode for a holiday gathering to thoughtfully prioritizing moments of connection through meal preparation and with the children in your lives, here are a series of ways that you can bring hygge into your heart and home this holiday season.

A Holiday Welcome

When hosting get-togethers over the holiday season, Gove notes that it’s important to prioritize connection over perfection.

“The goal shouldn’t be to have a ‘perfect’ table setting,” says Gove. “Rather, create an environment that facilitates warmth and comfort that shows guests that you’ve put genuine thought into creating an enjoyable atmosphere.”

Here are five considerations that Gove recommends when it comes to hosting connected holiday gatherings:

• Slip into comfort. Placing a basket of slippers in various sizes next to your door instantly encourages welcome and warmth. Outside of the physical comfort, this can also represent a transition from the outside world into the satisfying aura of coziness in your home.

• Adorn with warm textures. Drape blankets and soft textures all over your home to encourage a sense of calm. If you have wooden or metal chairs around your dining table, add to their comfort by placing sheepskin seat pads or draping blankets over the backs.

• Use firelight and candles for ambience. The peaceful glow of candlelight and the nostalgic crackle of a warm fireplace add immeasurable coziness to your home and a festive mood to your gatherings. Use candles of multiples sizes in the center of your dining table to add layers of warmth that illuminate your meals.

• Make your favorite moments extra special. Starting to feel stressed in the planning of your holiday gathering? Pause and seek out the festive activity that triggers you to relax, slow down and enjoy the moment. Fully embracing these festive traditions and little moments will bring you back to your tranquil mindset.

• Add a thoughtful touch to holiday outings. If your gathering includes an excursion out to enjoy a holiday activity, such as a light festival or holiday light drive, take a moment to prepare a thermos of hot cocoa to sip on and enjoy along the way.

Creating Culinary Connections

For Kirk Bachmann, fourth-generation chef and president and provost of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Boulder, hosting food-centric holiday gatherings are meaningful, memorable ways to celebrate love, gratitude, friendships and the enjoyment of holiday traditions.

“For me, the concept of hygge is not just about filling bellies,” says Bachmann, “but also touching hearts with the power of a well-crafted meal, shared in an atmosphere of warmth and togetherness. It’s about embracing the cozy elements of life, like the aroma of bread baking and the savory scents of a hearty stew to create a sense of contentment that lingers in your guests.”

And it’s not just the food itself that can create these conduits for connection, but the planning and preparation of the meals as well. Here are four ways that Bachmann suggests creating moments of connection throughout a culinary gathering:

• Be considerate in your planning. Actions as simple as creating intentional seating arrangements can go a long way in making your guests feel special. Being mindful of your guests’ culinary preferences, food insecurities and dietary restrictions ensure that they feel respected and welcomed. 

• Get your guests involved. While your holiday kitchen doesn’t need to be organized as prescriptively as Auguste Escoffier’s famed “Brigade System,” encouraging friends and family to join in food preparation with tasks that they are comfortable with creates a sense of teamwork, community and pride in the resulting feast.

• Emphasize traditions. Being mindful of the traditional dishes that may evoke fond memories for your guests will take your food-centric gathering to a new level of comfort, meaning and inclusivity, as these traditional dishes vary from person to person and culture to culture.

• Share recipes. There’s a story behind every recipe, and this can be especially true for holiday dishes. Bachmann notes that his father’s Christmas Stollen—a buttery, rum-flavored Swiss-German bread—is just such a recipe for him. Not just a delicious holiday treat, the bread is a labor of love that harkens to Bachmann’s family history, and it’s a key element of his holiday traditions. Encourage your guests to share their own stories of meaningful recipes, which will conjure up fond memories.

Embrace the Wonder

A child’s wonder at the simple joys of the holiday season is magic that Genna Hackley, founder of Babysitters of Boulder, believes adult celebrators should also embrace.

“I encourage parents to gift themselves moments of wonder, peace and exuberance, too, like they gift these experiences to their children,” says Hackley. “Parents often express to me that they regret stress-induced behavior during this season. The holiday season presents a unique opportunity to model the essential message of caring for one’s well-being. Let your child observe the adults in their lives making time for rest and simple pleasures.”

Here are a few considerations and activities that Hackley recommends as parents look to foster joyful connection-building this holiday season:

• Find moments of rest. To fully enjoy holiday celebrations, both children and adults need moments of calm, too. Choose times of the day or set aside a day of the week for these quiet recharging moments. Putting on your holiday pajamas and reading holiday books that are meaningful to your family make these quiet moments extra special.

• Welcome curiosity. The natural curiosity of children often makes them eager to learn about the holiday traditions of others and share their own traditions. Invite friends and neighbors to try your special holiday foods and share their traditions as well. Pursue activities that pique and foster your child’s unique interests, whether that’s making up a dance to their favorite holiday song or making borax-crystal snowflakes as a science-themed holiday craft.

• Embrace simplicity and gratitude. The holidays can be an extremely stimulating time of year. When choosing holiday activities—especially art and craft projects— it’s okay to choose simple crafts over those with complicated instructions and to focus on one activity at a time. Making aromatic cinnamon dough ornaments, stringing popcorn, cranberries or colorful cereal O’s for garland and creating pomanders are great examples. Introduce children to the delight of giving along with receiving: volunteer together, try a small canned food drive in your neighborhood, or donate toys to a gift drive. 

• Remember proper safety and supervision. The holiday rush can sometimes cause us to overlook common safety hazards. Consider hiring babysitters during holiday parties and ensure that there is a supervised space for children in attendance to move, make noise and be silly. Secure pets. When crafting, be sure that hot glue guns and hot baking pans are supervised by an adult.

• Get inspired by nature. Many Colorado locales—and even possibly your backyard—are great spaces for holiday activities, experiences and creations. Evergreen garland materials and pine cones are often right outside, and decorating in the spirit of the season doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money or storing bins of décor. Revel with your child in the joy of rolling down a snowy hill together and gather some of nature’s treasures to use in a décor activity.

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