My friends' house in the woods sits upon a hill, tucked between the ridge of a farm and the ridge of the Shawangunk Mountains. Recently, when I went to photograph it for their sale listing, it had just snowed again. After weeks of feeling like we were living beneath the cloud cover on Venus, the sun was blazing. The ground was bright white and fluffy-looking.
Inside, there were giant, happy house plants everywhere. Light poured across the furry blankets my friends’ tenant folds neatly over every chair and couch arm. Oranges ripened in a silver basket. Old books of fiction and poetry were stacked like sculptures and modernist side tables. The black wood stove, nestled into a stone fireplace, was not lit, but invited being. And suddenly, I understood hygge–that Danish concept for coziness that I’ve been reading about lately.
If hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) were a physical thing, it would look like a carefully curated house on a sunny, winter’s day.
Hygge is sunbathing on a comfy chair with a good book and your feet tucked under a furry blanket. It’s spending time watering and babying indoor house plants. It’s eating imported fruit, sipping warm beverages, making soups, and snuggling with your loves. It’s about slowing down, relishing comforts, and noticing the bright side.
To be honest, I can’t find winter's bright side without a lot of vitamin D supplements and a cashmere sweater. When I was starting to panic about winter’s approach last December, I remembered what we had done that made summer so much fun last year: Made a list of everything we wanted to do or try that season. So, in December, the kids and I again sat down to write.
The list for winter was shorter than the one for summer: sledding, hot chocolate, snowmen and snow angels, ice skating, planetarium and zoo visits, baking cookies and eating crepes, playdates and sleepovers, and movies.
One of the maddening things about winter is that you never know when your day will be canceled due to weather or illness. But doesn't that just invite spontaneity?
After a deep snowfall the other day, I texted some friends. A couple hours later, we were all gathered at the park in the middle of our neighborhood for sledding. It was a grey day, but we could see out to the river from the top of the hill. And it was easy to beat the isolation of a snow day.
Since we started looking for those things that we can only enjoy in winter, I have added two things to our list: Walking outside with only the intention of spotting pastel colors (why didn’t I ever notice there was such an extensive palette of whites?); and enjoying winter’s lazy sun, whose late-to-wake, early-to-sleep habits make it easy to share its rising and setting with the kids. In summer, that generally eludes them.
Now, every day, Littlest issues his report on the height of his school’s snow pile. (Whenever the snowplow clears the blacktop behind school, it piles it into one spot for the kids to climb.) Because of that and our adventure snowtubing and everything else, Littlest says winter is his favorite season. And I’m beginning to see his point.