There is nothing quite as perfect as a blue Copenhagen sky. It’s a truly startling blue, and it contrasts sharply and perfectly with the colors of the city. Ox-blood brick, saturated greens, the teal of spires and domes that top off the city like Bishop’s hats. Even the steely gray of the sea looks good against the sky. The light is superb. Even my photographs look better than they should.
So it’s a shame that the sky is gray more often than not. 171 days of rain a year will do that to a place.
Not long from now, the clocks will go back. We are living pretty far north anyway–not quite reindeer and dog sled territory, but the tipping point of Nordic vs. European in my opinion. There aren’t many hours of daylight at this time of year. It seems cruel to impose an extra hour of darkness on these hearty North Europeans. They are taxed enough as it is, it’s like paying VAT on the sun. But those resilient Danes, and those of us that have temporarily adopted Denmark as home, have no choice but to begin settling in for the long, dark winter. The air is getting colder, coats and boots and hats have been in the shops for months now. Without the peskiness of holidays in between, Christmas decorations are slowly making their way onto the shelves. Letters are coming home from school extorting that in Denmark, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, so please make sure you have extras of the following : underwear, long underwear, socks, fleece socks, rain boots, snow boots, snow pants, rain pants, winter jackets, hats, mittens, 5 golden rings and a Christmas pudding. The Danes are obviously used to this. They take it in stride. They laugh in the face of winter and six measly hours of daylight a day. They’ve honed and perfected a whole way of life around the concept of hygge. And if your language has a special word for the valiant attempt to survive a long, dark, winter, then you know it’s a seriously long and dark winter.
There’s no accurate English translation of hygge, but essentially it is the art of surrounding yourself with all things warm and comforting. Open fires, mulled wine, friends and fleece blankets. More wine. Dinners at home. Parties and gatherings, candles and soft lighting. More wine. Some schnapps, perhaps. Think the run-up to the holiday season, except for six months. What the Danes are telling you is that you need to be drunk by a roaring fire in order to have any chance at escaping the winter intact.
It is only mid-October and already you can feel, as my spouse likes to say in his best west country farmer’s drawl, ‘the nights drawn’ in’.
So it’s time to get hygge with it. (The word is actually pronounced more like ‘hoo-guh’, but I couldn’t resist the title). There are several grown sheep’s worth of yarn in my house for knitting projects, enough to keep me busy for some time. (Scarfs for all!) The cook-books have come out with dog-eared pages full of soups and stews and other hearty fare. The kids are looking askance at the fleece tights I’ve pulled out for them to wear under their jeans (but they’ll thank me come January…). And we’re getting out the calendar looking for free Sundays to share dinners with friends.
So we’re getting ready. We’re getting hygge. Though we’ve yet to do the most important thing you need to do to survive a Nordic winter: book a holiday somewhere in the sun.