You must’ve seen this one coming. Not winter, but this post that’s going to include crap about Denmark again. Apologies in advance, but I’m playing out the string on them fancy Danes once more. Let’s see if we upper Midwestern and Canadian types can learn something useful, like how to survive winter.
A few years back when this blog was still in its infancy and all I could muster was mundane “list posts”, I ginned up a spot on winter survival hacks. Give it a read – it’s a quick one – and then come back. You’ll find yourself well-equipped with all the things you already knew beforehand.
You can call me “Cap’n Obvious”, but my intent is to get us grounded on how miserable a long, cold winter can be:
- Winter is cold. That means it’s uncomfortable. You have to put on several layers to avoid shivering, at least until your car warms up.
- Winter is dangerous. Icy roads and sidewalks injure people, wreck cars, and keep us indoors.
- Winter is dark. For many of us, the darkness brings on Seasonal Affective Disorder. A very real condition that even Vitamin D supplements can’t solve.
- Winter makes us sick. Got kids? Then you got germs. Viruses. You name it, you’ll get it. Bring on the Vick’s Vaporub and humidifiers.
- You get movies like Frozen.
How to Survive a Cold, Dark Winter If You Can’t Move Somewhere Pleasant
Ignore that last part in italics. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. Without any training or research on the matter, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Tricks designed to help this fledgling author “grind it out” from November through April-ish.
- A fireplace is a must. If you don’t have a fireplace, get a jackhammer and a pile of bricks and build one. Or do what we did and buy (or rent) a house with one already installed. The best kind for sheer ambience are wood-burning, but the best kind for your lungs and convenience are gas-burning inserts.
- Take naps and drink coffee. I think it’s a Norwegian thing, but I’m not positive. No, that’s right, the Norwegians are down for coffee and cigarettes. We’re not here to get lung cancer, so just stick with caffeine and extra sleep. Just not in that order.
- Embrace the holiday season. That knocks two months off this raw, snowy deal. Then you’re only left with having to slog through the worst four months of winter, from January through April.
- Pick up a winter sport, like, say, downhill skiing! Or if you’re more frugal-minded, try winter walks and challenge yourself with well-lit, reflector-coated winter runs and bike rides.
- Fill up your weekends with social events. Have friends over for game night and a casual dinner.
See? I’m a gottdam expert on this stuff. All it takes is a decades-long life of living in the wilderness, above the 50th parallel. You figure it all out on your own eventually. But then, March rolls around. And then April snow showers that bring us May blizzards.
And I realize once more that I don’t know shit about how to survive winter. First-world problem alert! Time to call on the experts.
Hygge: The Danish Tonic for Winter Survival
We’re going to dig a bit deeper into “hygge”. I touched on hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) briefly in a post from March 2017, as a possible antidote to the many, increasing societal woes here in the States. From Wikipedia:
Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. As a cultural category with its sets of associated practices hygge has more or less the same meanings in Danish and Norwegian, but the notion is more central in Denmark than Norway.
Want to take on the hygge experiment with Cubert this winter? Here’s what you’ll need:
- A shitload of candles. That’s right. Burn that wax, baby. You’ll need 13 lbs. of candle per person this winter season. Yankee Candle affiliates are scratching their chins right about now…
- A fireplace. Score! I had that one figured out already. Granted, I use our fireplace to curl up in a ball and study warmer places to live on the iPad. So I still have my work cut out.
- Live in the moment, and enjoy the company of friends and family. This one is tricky for us “Living the American Dream” types, who don’t know when to quit. Always scheming and plotting the next big purchase, vacation, or money-making scheme.
- Eat a shitload of cakes and chocolate. Well. I guess it’s only for six months out of the year, so what can it hurt?
- Follow a sane work-life balance. Leave work by 5:30, don’t login again until 8:30 the next day. And not on weekends. Oh, and get your sleep! The average Dane hits the sack before 10PM. Just like Carl.
There’s certainly more, but I like the prime number 5 when it comes to mundane list posts. Sue me. The bonus material is this: Share in the work. Prepare meals together. Create a cozy nook in your living space, somewhere you can read in comfort with your cup of coffee or spiked hot chocolate. You feelin’ me? Good. I love a little hot chocolate with my peppermint schnapps, jawohl!
Creating a home that’s hygge-rific isn’t all that challenging. It boils down to comfort and creating spaces that aren’t dominated by electronics and clutter. Go with muted earth-tones. Buy a bean bag if that’s comfortable to you. If you don’t have a fireplace, create a cluster of candles.
I’m no Martha Stewart, but I can home-make with the best of ’em, by golly. And check this out: You can still be a practicing minimalist, so long as you hang onto the throw pillows, blankets, candles, books, magazines, coffee mugs, fondue pots, board games, etc. etc.
There is a Catch
But of course. Nothing comes without a hitch, not even cozy ol’ hygge. In my quest to find an antidote for Minnesota winters, I learned about hyggelitical pitfalls. For one, the Danes love their little cliques*. Try to break into the “circle of trust” to enjoy a group of Danish friends’ warm hearth in the middle of February, and join them in a rollicking game of charades? Good luck with that.
*A must read article that’s short and sweet. The comments are even shorter and sweeter still. Gotta give it to the brits for their flair with biting sarcasm.
This isn’t anything new to me living here in the states. Minnesotans have (perhaps) an unfair reputation for some home-grown cliquishness. Ask any transplant, especially someone from Wisconsin.
As a transplant myself, I’ve found it tough to crack these friendly viking circles. That’s part of the reason why our own circle of pals and misfits is heavily foreign-born from sources including India, Holland, Russia, Bulgaria, Sweden, etc. Even our alley neighbor with whom I’ll sometimes catch a game at the bar with is a Boston native.
At any rate, the Danes will shut you out in their own backyard. So if you find yourself hanging out in the suburbs of Copenhagen, expecting instant hot chocolate-to-go with instant Danish friends, be prepared for a reality check. (Or bring your friends with you.) The irony of this facet of hygge is that Denmark is always among the happiest of nations, yet the unhappiest place to live for unsuspecting expats. Jerks.
Oh, and the Danes apparently consume double the sugar per capita vs. their European counterparts. But please: Take that with a grain of salt. If you need sugar to survive winter, who are we to judge??
So, if you can get over the Danish tendency to gravitate to a potentially boring normality and sameness, with a heavy dose of sugar and candles, then maybe hygge can yet prove useful. My takeaway is to apply the good parts of hygge and leave the rest to the introverted, borderline xenophobic, middle-minded Danes. Another cookie, mate?
My Action Plan
Since winter started with a sudden, unexpected blizzard on October 14 (see the featured image), I don’t have much time to plot and scheme. Gotta crack this nut FAST, before the wolves start howling and the ice tracks form on the sidewalks.
For all the hype around hygge, I still find some of its core ideas and notions valuable. Opening up our house to friends a bit more (what Blue Zones would refer to as “moais”)? Easy. Plus, it prompts us to keep the house a little cleaner. Win-win.
Candles and candle-lit meals? I can dig that. We had put most of our candles away after the twins were born. At 5, they’re ready to learn about candle safety. And how not to pour hot wax on the iPad.
What else makes Hygge work? It’s gotta be the balanced lifestyle. AKA “das short commute”. Or, being done with work at a decent time. And getting to bed at a decent time. Oh yeah – leaving your work at the office. Check all those boxes, and you’ll avoid burning your candles at both ends.
Extending hygge to the outdoors can only serve to bolster my odds of winter survival. I’m thinking a few weekends of hitting the slopes with the family would be good for us. The lift tickets might be expensive, but I reckon affordable for two or three outings tops. We may try snowshoeing or even winter biking. Heck, building a snowman can be rewarding. Right, Elsa?
In Closing: The Hidden Benefits of Winter
Whether you do the hygge shuffle, or just grin and bear it, winter can offer a few surprising benefits. For one, you learn to appreciate every other part of the year that much more. Many Minnesotans despise air conditioning in summertime, because there aren’t as many days on the calendar to enjoy air above 40 degrees F.
Winter keeps us focused. If all we did was run around and play all the time, frollicking in fields of daisies (who does that?!), shit wouldn’t get done. The cold weather gets us to buckle down on our studies, our day jobs, and maybe some projects around the house too. I dunno guys, I’m reaching here. Throw some more winter benefits at me in the comments, please?!?!?
And let’s face it. I’m not about to give up my dream of spending three months of core winter in sunny AZ or NV when the kids take off to college. Hell no. Sunshine and warmth cannot be denied, even on purpose and struggle grounds.