Hygge is a Danish word with no English equivalent. “The art of getting cozy” comes closest. It had a moment a few winters ago, when Danish comedian Sofie Hagen complained that hygge (pronounced “hue-gah”) had been “weaponized” to sell things like slipper socks, scented candles and lap throws.
I love all these things. But if I really start to think about hygge, I start clawing at myself. Hygge feeds cabin fever the way oxygen feeds the toasty fire your stocking feet are supposed to be propped up in front of. I’m on guard against hygge because of my acute susceptibility to cabin fever. One day indoors is fine. Two days and I’m hallucinating and homicidal, like Jack Nicolson in The Shining. Nicolson was correct to leave the hotel for a lap in the snow, but by then it was too late.
During the great blizzard of 1978, even my home state of New Jersey got Yukon levels of snow. But Boston, where I was going to school, was insane. Classes were cancelled for 12 days. As the snow piled up against our second-floor windows, my dorm mates and I practiced hygge — though we didn’t know what that was yet — and for the first few days everything went great. We sipped endless mugs of soup, cocoa, herbal teas, mulled wine, warm milk, hot toddies — so many steaming liquids! Just thinking about it makes me want to pee. My bladder was younger then. Now, if I sink into the cushions and curl up under a quilt refilling my bladder with mugs of hot beverage, cinnamon stick poking me in the eye, it won’t be long before I’m up again for a race to the bathroom.
Anyway, back at the dorm, we were getting fabulously cozy. Somebody broke out a guitar, somebody lit a candle. We were so happy to not have to go to class. All bus and trolley service was suspended, so we emptied our packs of books and papers and hiked the snow tunnel that Commonwealth Avenue had become to get food. We stuffed some hairy tubers into our packs and hiked back. We cooked together in the common kitchen and read passages from our favorite books aloud to one another.
But then the days, unlike the snow, started to melt into one another. My memories get darker. What stands out most after all these years is my roommate, normally a very calm and reasonable person, a darling girl really, lunging at me with a potato peeler. That was on about day nine. Things only deteriorated from there. We went from Little Women to Ethan Frome in a hurry.
I wish I could remember what I’d said just before my roommate lunged at me. I’m sure I deserved it. I probably also deserved the whack my mother gave me when I finally returned home, on the first Greyhound out of Boston, to escape all that hideous hygge. I said something at dinner in front of guests that caused her to backhand me with such celerity, nobody caught on. She was like Annie Oakley with that hand. I excused myself, saying I’d bitten my lip. I probably could have used a stitch. After my lip healed, a faint crease remained. It faded in the plump elasticity of youth but now is getting deep again. Strange as it may seem, I treasure this souvenir. I look for the crease in the mirror and think of the devastating wit I must once have had. What did I say? Alas, it’s lost to time, driven out the moment my tender lip made contact with my mother’s diamond ring.
You can see where I’m going with this. Get out of the house! The winter is entering its last, most dangerous phase, the part of the Jack London novel when the fur trapper looks hungrily at his dog. Hygge works best for me after I come back inside, rosy-cheeked, at the end of a day spent hiking, when the woodstove and fuzzy blanket are not a trap but the welcoming comforts they were meant to be.
Here’s a hike on a pretty part of the Appalachian Trail that starts out near High Point and ends at a view.
Trailhead: Park in the roomy lot on Route 23 in Montague, N.J., just south of the High Point State Park Office and Kuser Rd., then cross 23 to the AT going northwest.
Route: Walk about 3.5 miles and you’ll see a view open up in an open pasture, great for picnics, then return for 7-mile round trip.