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My Danish Hygge

We laid on the floor, the five of us, all resting on each other as if we were playing a grown-up version of Twister. Maks laid his head on my stomach, Astrid on his, mine on Frederikke, and Frederikke and Rune both on Astrid. We were in a perfect position to hear the satisfied movements of each others’ stomachs, full with the sweet Danish pastries from Anderson’s bakery down the road. I had a lukewarm fastelavnsboller, the Danish version of a cream puff, which had cooled in Astrid’s front wooden basket during her bike ride back from the bakery. 

     Mine had a perfect, circular coating of milk chocolate glaze around the top with a singular pink dot of frosting the size of a ladybug directly in the middle. When I bit into the soft, thin dough, the mildly sweet vanilla custard spilled out of the middle, collecting in the corners of my mouth. Rune snuck me a bite of his kanelsnegle, which is similar to a cinnamon roll. He unwound the long, skinny piece of dough from its circular formation; some of the cinnamon sugar butter gathered on his fingertips. I offered him some of my now custard-less fastelavnsboller in response. 

     Our perfect Twister formation was broken as Frederikke wiggled out and Maks pulled a blanket over the remaining four of us. The water was finished in the kettle for our lemon ginger tea. My mind was quiet, but in a good way. My body was warm, despite it being freezing outside. My stomach was full. It was hygge time. 

     Denmark has consistently been ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world for years, according to the World Happiness Report. It’s not the weather, where most of the fall and winter days are short, cold, and rainy. A part of it could be the location, but it ranks higher than many of its neighboring countries on the happiness scale.

     It’s the hygge. 

     Hygge is the Danish term for coziness, comfort, or the feeling a person gets when sitting by a fire on a cold night with a loved one while sipping on a cup of mint tea. To the Danes, hygge is a way of life–they have rules of hygge. 

     Candles, books, cards, blankets, and food make up the hygge environment. Each friend and family group conducts hygge time in their own way, and when I was living with my twelve Danish house mates, hygge time was always complete when we had the traditional Danish buns, cheese, and rhubarb jam. 

       Hygge sometimes required preparation. Frederikke and I would wander into the kitchen together at night—once everybody else was asleep and the kitchen was quiet—to prepare the dough for the buns. They required no fancy ingredients, just bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and water. We would always stir the damp mixture longer than needed as we would get carried away telling stories and gossiping. Then we would put it away in the fridge until the morning. 

     The dough rose with the sun. Frederikke and I would wake before the others. She would form the dough into balls on our baking sheets while I pulled out the plates and retrieved the milky comté cheese and jar of beloved rhubarb jam. Once the subtle aroma of the buns reached the end of the hall, the hygge time had commenced. 

     The Danish pastries and buns were delicious on their own but made perfect because of the environment. The thought of them now evokes more fond memories of the people and emotions experienced while eating them than of the taste itself. Danish hygge is finding contentment in the coziness. It’s being satisfied with the food, content with the loved ones around, and grateful for the calmness that covers a hygge environment like a knit blanket. 

     For some of my roommates, their favorite hygge time was marked by knitting or baking. Mine was with them, all cozied together in our beautiful, disorganized way. And sometimes with a hot bun. 

Cover photo courtesy of planmygetaway

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