Get Cozy: A Survival Strategy for a Midwestern Winter

Winter can get awfully long. Once the twinkling Christmas lights are put away and we attend our last holiday party, the final weeks of winter stretch in front of us like an endless expanse of gray.

Darker days and quiet nights naturally turn my attentions inward and make me more reflective. I think it’s right to honor that. But I don’t want to get lost in my own thoughts completely, because that can make me melancholy and isolated and even the most introverted among us know that’s not always such a great idea.

I don’t mind the cold, especially since I upgraded to wool hiking socks to make it though the brutal stretches of January. I understand that winter weather means you have to have a sense of humor and flexibility about travel plans. So I understand that people want to stay close to home. But it worries me when people just give up and hibernate all winter. It worries me even more that many of us don’t really seem to enjoy it.

It’s this attitude of resignation that really got to me. I don’t just want to survive winter, I want to thrive. So last year, I started doing winter differently.

My buddy Frode helped me figure out how to do it. Frode’s a North Dakotan, but he was born and raised in Norway. My friends joke that he ought to run for mayor, because he knows everybody in Fargo, his adopted hometown. He’s enthusiastic and cheerful and he’s always doing something, even in the dead of winter.

Frode played roller derby on the same team as my husband a few years ago (yes, dudes skate too), but despite the fact that we don’t see each other as often as we used to when we all traveled together during derby season, Frode’s invitations never stopped coming. They are both consistent and consistently intriguing. Do we want to go out dancing with a group of friends? How about candlelight cross country skiing and cocoa in a chalet? Could we make it to his annual Norwegian Christmas party?

I asked him how (and why) he kept so busy instead of retreating indoors or railing against winter like everyone else. He said something like — and imagine my paraphrasing in a lilting Norwegian accent — “Winter happens every year. It’s not a surprise. So I enjoy it doing nice things with friends that make me happy.”

It turns out his attitude has a name (several, actually) and is a philosophy and lifestyle in Norway and in greater Scandinavia. In Norwegian, this focus on cultivating warm and cozy gatherings and experiences is called koselig, pronounced “k-ohs-lee”,  so it sounds little like the English word “cozily,”  just with the emphasis on the last syllable. In Denmark, it’s called hygge, pronounced “hue-gah.” The words are different, but the concepts are connected. Both emphasize simple pleasures.

“It defines something/someone/an atmosphere that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting,” says Lorelou Desjardins. She offers some tips on how to get cozy in this story about koselig that she wrote for her website, A Frog in the Fjord. (She’s French and now lives in Norway.)

Koselig (or hygge) is a mindset where we consciously choose and create experiences that appeal to our sense of comfort and well-being and connect us with other. It’s about taking that sense of magic, community and ritual that makes the holiday season special and extending it through the rest of the cold winter months. Scandinavia is darker and colder than most places on the planet, but its people have practiced creating warmth in a way that I think residents in other wintery places could learn from.

You can find this feeling in grand gestures, like moonlight snowshoeing followed by a roaring fire in a cozy ski lodge or roasting marshmallows at an outdoor bonfire. But I’ve also found a series of small adjustments makes a world of difference.

For me, kolselig is enjoying a steaming hot bowl of knoephla soup in my sunny kitchen instead of grabbing a sandwich at my desk. Lighting candles and curling up with a good book is hyggeligt. I can find this feeling relaxing in the sauna or a bubble bath, inviting my grandparents over for coffee, cake and conversation or trying and serving new recipes (including ones from Scandinavia) in a warm kitchen while the snow falls outside.

Last year, I even threw hygge parties. I made a hearty, un-fussy, one-pot meal (pasta or soup, usually), put out drinks and invited everybody I knew (seriously, the Facebook invite list was borderline absurd) to drop in whenever and stay as long as they liked. Older generations of Midwesterners and our New American neighbors from around the world, (especially my friends from the Middle East) would recognize this kind of open-door, come-as-you-are gathering. But for many of my generation, it’s fallen out of style.

I propose we bring it back. The vibe was welcoming and the mix of guests varied wildly. At one party, the daughter of a college friend prompted us all think about our goals for the next 20 years, heady stuff for a ten year old. At another, a group of roller derby pals compared candy colored tresses and some seriously impressive bruises. Frode himself arrived with an enormous wedge of Jarlesberg cheese and mulled wine to share.

I haven’t thrown a party this year (work got crazier than anticipated), but I still carry this spirit of coziness with me. It’s surprisingly easy to find and cultivate little moments of pleasure every day.

Now, instead of watching TV in the evening, you’ll find me curled up on my couch with a cup of peppermint tea and a plush blanket, reading something new. I’m normally a woman in motion, much more comfortable starting a new project, planning an adventure or doing something — anything — to distract me from sitting down and reflecting. But adding a little hygge (or koselig) to my life has helped helped me be more mindful.

Investing in books, a few cozy sweaters, warm socks and an online subscription to The New York Times has done wonders for my mood and my sanity. And these quiet nights have definitely made the winter fly by faster.

If you’re curious, these awesome lightning bolt earrings and feather bracelet are by Minnesota jewelry designer Larissa Loden and my current favorite sweater (army green! distressed! slouchy!) is a gift from AMI Clubwear. The necklace is actually from a swindler in Paris, which is a story for another time.

What about you?
How do you stay cozy during the winter season?
How have the concepts of hygge and koselig changed your life?
Have you ever taken a cozy winter getaway?
If so, where did you go? If not, where do you want to go?
(Next year I pretty much want to do every single activity on this Minnesota list. We should do a Prairie Style File koselig tour!)
What books (and tea!) do you recommend?

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