As Cleveland, and much of the country, braces for the Christmas Blizzard of 2022, we should turn to those who are used to such cold weather for advice on how to approach the next few days in a manner befitting the season. If anyone knows how to do winter in style, it is the folks with whom gave us reindeer, glogg, and of course, those amazing sweaters: the Nordic peoples of Europe. Ignoring the fact that they are also home to unbelievably high taxes, a philosopher known for The Sickness unto Death and Fear and Trembling, and - God help us - lutefisk, Scandinavians can be trusted when it comes to hunkering down on a cold winter's night.
Over the past several years, it has become fashionable to throw around the word hygge, but the term and what it represents finds its origins in the ancient world of Norse mythology. Hygge may serve as the root for our word hug (hugge means “to embrace”), but at its core, the term refers to the same set of attributes that the Greeks referred to as eudaimonia or “good soul."
Most often translated as “cozy”, hygge is commonly depicted as the act of curling up with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate in front of a fireplace. While possibly wearing a sweater from Dale of Norway as you sit in a worn leather chair next to your sleeping golden retriever. The only thing that would make it more hygge would be to experience this scenario with one or more loved ones, even if those loved ones are scattered throughout the house or the world.
Our Assistant Director of Marketing, Anne Brennan, grew up in a home where hygge was not only a family thing but a Christmas thing. Thus, the Brennan clan followed in the footsteps of those great Irish monks who, according to Icelandic sagas, came to the Nordic lands and melded Catholic and Norse traditions. On Christmas Eve, each Brennan would open one Christmas present - always a book - and would find some cozy spot in the house to settle in with a favorite beverage. Through the magic of literature, they would travel to another world while still in the comfort of their own home.
There is no better time than Christmas Eve to be intentional about the experience of hygge. For it was on that night, over two thousand years ago, that Mary and Joseph did their best to transform a manger into the kind of cozy home that all children need and deserve. On that night, the Holy Family embraced each other and became a human icon of the embrace that the Father had just given to the world. At that moment, hygge received its baptism and would forever be associated with the feeling adults get when they remember the Christmas celebrations of their youth.
With hygge, as with so many things, it is good for us to imitate the Brennan family. On Christmas Eve and throughout the festive season, we need to take time off from the often insane number of commitments that can, sadly, diminish the peace and joy that should be an essential part of all of our Christmas experiences. Even if, and maybe especially if, we are not able to be in the same home as those we love, we should make plans to enjoy hygge together while apart. The options of how to distance-hygge are limitless, and things like reading aloud to young children on a Zoom call or sharing a group text of Christmas memories from years gone by.
To let someone know that they are not alone, that they are part of a family, even across what may be a great distance, is to become that icon. That image, of the soul-nourishing embrace that God gives us every day, but is best experienced on Christmas Eve.