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The arrival of winter brings shorter, colder days and with that, the natural desire for warmth and comfort. Around the holidays especially, we find ourselves searching for all kinds of coziness.

The Danish and Norwegian word “hygge” defines the comforting feeling we’re seeking.

Don’t ask me for the correct inflection, although it is of similar pronunciation to “hoo-gah.” You’ll hear it said flawlessly by my stepfather, Esp, who is fully Danish. He has lived in the United States for three decades and his lovely family resides in Denmark.

For Esp, hygge is “a feeling of comfort and ease with family. At Christmastime. Or at the bar with friends.” It’s impossible to argue with that. Hygge was created for us years ago when visiting Denmark one particularly special Christmas. Esp’s family quite literally welcomed us with open arms and waved small American flags greeting us at the airport. We followed tradition by singing carols while walking in circles around a freshly felled tree adorned with real candles. Cousins scrambled to devour bowl after bowl of rice pudding with cherry sauce. No matter how full one felt, you could not stop serving yourself spoonfuls until a single almond was found in a lucky person’s bowl. If I correctly recall, one of Esp’s nephews received a gift by the gracious host for finally finding it.

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Jet-lagged sisters laughed deliriously well past midnight many a night, playing board games together until the waves of sleepiness took over. More delightful memories in a foreign land were to be made the next day.

Adding my own definition to this Scandinavian word, hygge to me is enjoyment of the unembellished comforts of life. A respite from the hustle to take time for quiet, simple pleasures.

The first sip of hot coffee as gray morning light peeks in.

Smoky smell to autumn air.

Graham crackers and milk as a bedtime snack, swapping stories with Grandma.

That comfort show “Friends” for the eight billionth time.

Hearing words such as “Have you eaten? How was your day? Everything is going to be okay.”

When your dog finds the perfect spot in the crook of your legs.

Your favorite soft blanket.

Candles flickering in the dark.

A warm hug from a dear friend.

Chili simmering on the stovetop signaling the first day of football.

Donning a faded, oversized crewneck while crawling into fresh bedsheets.

An unexpected card in the mailbox.

Bubbles up to your chin as you sink into the tub.

The relief of being home after a long day.

Lunch with friends at the usual spot, with the usual rounds of laughter.

Letting tears fall as a line from a movie strikes your heart in exactly the right place.

Honoring family holiday traditions, while creating new ones too.

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The world often seems upside down these days, and somewhere along the way, we have forgotten we really aren’t that different at all. No matter who we are, no matter what we do, each of us pines for the same result: being loved and accepted.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or merely seeking small comforts daily this winter, may you find peace. Consider this permission, a shiny wrapped gift if you will, for you to relax and slip into the new year quietly too.

Hygge was found in an incredible, vastly underrated European country Christmases ago, and hygge will be found and created in each home this winter season too. If only we allow ourselves to welcome it.

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Emily Waletich

Former teacher and aspiring writer adventuring with her husband, young daughter, and two dogs in Minnesota and beyond.

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