There’s one word on everybody’s lips this winter: hygge. The Danish concept speaks of all things cosy. Think hot chocolate by a roaring log fire. Wrapping up warm for winter walks with loved ones. Cosy cardigans and flickering candles. Comfort food, comfort clothes and an infectiously positive state of mind. Faced with a grey British winter, what’s not to like?
We Brits have certainly embraces all things hyggelig. Our Instagram feeds are bursting with #hygge posts celebrating knitted socks, snuggly cushions, glowing tealights and hearty bowls of homemade soup. Come Christmas, you can expect your bookshelves to be groaning with tomes on the subject; British booksellers are offering an astonishing array of new books on hygge, with subtitles that promise happiness, calm, simplicity and the secret to living well.
Hygge is a timely chance for us Brits to head into hibernation mode at the end of a difficult year. It also crystallizes the zeitgeist perfectly, capturing the mood around some of the year’s biggest wellbeing trends. Hygge extols digital detoxing and the mindfulness mantra to ‘embrace the moment’, but defiantly ignores any suggestion of ‘clean eats’. “Alcohol, sugar and fat are the three key ingredients of hygge,” says Danish journalist Mette Davidsen-Nielsen. Perfect for a calm, guilt-free Christmas then! Unless, of course, you’re so busy trying to ‘gram your hyggelig moment that you forget to actually put your phone down and relax…
Christians might well be drawn to embrace this wholesome trend that promotes simple pleasures. Some have even noted that the Danes have important – and surprisingly biblical – lessons to teach us: surrender your worries, make time to rest, practice gratefulness, value the time you spend building relationships.
But before you get too cosy, be warned. It’s all too easy to use hygge as an excuse to fall into a comfort stupor. Hygge is a retreat, an escape, a turning-inwards. Wrapped up with friends, food and fireside fun, we can soon forget the problems of the world around us. We forget to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We forget to feed the hungry and stand beside the broken. We forget to love our enemies. Because we’re too busy arranging our pricey tealight holders so they’ll look perfect in the photo we’re planning for that next social media update. Which, perversely, isn’t very restful at all.
Even when our hyggelig moments are more truly restorative, we still need to pause and think. Hygge might promote comfort, but does Jesus call us to a comfortable life? In her forthcoming book Comfort Detox (IVP 2017), Erin M. Straza writes: “Let me be clear: the comfort of God is not the problem. Like many other things this side of the fall, our understanding and pursuit of comfort is askew. We want comfort, and we can find it in full from God. [But] the real problem is that we have sought comfort in all the wrong places, everywhere but God.”
Right now, hygge sells. Retailers around the world are using it in their cleverly-concocted marketing campaigns to sell us an alternative offer of comfort, and one that can never satisfy us at the deepest levels. No amount of fluffy socks and mugs of mulled wine by the fire can. In fact, there is no secret to achieving happiness and calm. There is only Jesus. And his call to us is almost the opposite of hygge: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep [and] put on the armour of light.” This advent prayer, based on Romans 13:11, is recited in churches up and down the country during advent and it’s a rallying cry to us from a saviour who was born in a stable. Hardly hygglig.
So this advent, embrace hygge in the moments when it helps you to enjoy God’s rest, find His comfort and share His love with those around you. And for all those other moments, forget the tealights and picture-perfect winter scenes. Get out there into a world that can be dark, chaotic and tumultuous – and experience His peace in the midst of it anyway.