Hygge for the Holidays

As featured in Creative Child Magazine

Would you like a cozier, happier holiday season in 2017? I think it would be a much needed ending to what could surely be described as a crazy year here in America. “Hustle and bustle” is the American way of holidays, but what if we looked to our happy friends in Denmark (the happiest country in the world in 2016 and second happiest in 2017 while the U.S. was ranked 13th and 14th respectively) to learn a fresh way to do the holidays?

I spoke with my friend and author of The Danish Way of ParentingJessica Joelle Alexander,to discuss the popular Danish tradition of hygge and how it relates to the holiday season. Here are 5 very “hygglige” ideas to transform this usual stressful time into a satisfying, peaceful experience.

1. Visit a tree farm and cut down your tree – as a family! Alexander tells me that Danes are very into real and natural products and that plastic is seen as quite an American thing. She says, “Many families go to literally chop it down together from a farm! Some families grow it themselves each year and chop it down together. This is a team effort to chop it down. Otherwise they buy it from a market. It is extremely rare to have a plastic tree.”

I can see how this annual tradition can add to the feel of togetherness and joy. Any time we honor a family tradition, we strengthen the family unit and connect heart to heart. If you prefer plastic trees, no problem! You can still create a hygglige tradition by putting on Christmas music, baking cookies, and decorating it together.

2. Light a candle. Alexander says, “There are a lot of candles happening at Christmas everywhere from morning to night. This is really the quintessential look and feel of hygge at Christmas. They are literally burning them at all times of day in houses and cafes. Most families have a calendar candle or a big candle that burns down all day for one day and is measured on the side. The candle is typically blown out at breakfast by one of the kids to symbolize one day has passed closer to Christmas. This is really cozy.”

3. Hold hands and sing around the tree. I love this next hygge tradition Alexander told me about. To me, it is very reminiscent of the Whos in Whoville! She says this, “It’s very “hyggelige” to light the candles on the Christmas tree (they have candles on their trees!) and VERY Danish. Then we all dance around the Christmas tree holding hands and singing Christmas songs together before opening presents. Kids absolutely love this even though they have to wait for their gifts.”

4. Bake cookies and play lots of games. Being present and enjoying time together is what hygge is all about. Alexander tells me, “They [Danes] play a lot of games in general with the family when they are all together at the holidays. Playing games is a great way to be present together in the moment. They bake a lot of special cookies together. All the kids are involved in this. Again, team effort is key in hygge at Christmas. Everyone is aware that they help out and this makes for a nice atmosphere.”

5. Make ornaments together. This is a tradition my family has upheld here in the U.S. for several years, and I’m happy to see it’s rather hyggelige! We create salt dough ornaments every year and hang some on our tree and gift a few to family members. The kids are involved from making the dough to hand-painting the final ornament. Making ornaments together is a wonderful hyggelige tradition that gets everyone off their devices and together in one room.

In terms of what is NOT hygge, Alexander says to avoid talking politics, complaining, bragging too much, talking badly about others and being negative in general, and having too much electronics. Instead, talk about uplifting memories, sing, be part of a team (what can I do to help?), put phones away as much as possible, be present with those you love, and be thankful for them. Take the hygge oath at the beginning of the holiday season to set the goal for your family.

“The key is drama-free togetherness and appreciating the simple,” notes Alexander. I hope you have a hygglige holiday season!



Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is a bestselling author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Atlantic, Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, NY Times and many more. She is the author of 3 books, gives talks and workshops globally, and researches and writes for UC Berkeley's Towards Belonging Institute

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