Hygge, the Danish word (pronounced hoo-ga), has been described as creating coziness and comfort. Credited with contributing to Danes’ well-documented high levels of happiness, the concept has taken off across the world, influencing everything from home design to new books.
But it’s about more than just pulling on some wool socks, indulging in a cup of hot chocolate and sitting by candlelight. It’s about conviviality and coming together in the frigid winter. It’s about slowing down to spend time with friends and family in real life, not on social media.
We may be biased, but we think Minnesotans are darned good at hygge. Chalk it up to some residents’ Scandinavian roots, or our skill at weathering long winters and subzero temps. In fact, hygge has become so popular here that the state’s tourism arm, Explore Minnesota, promotes where to find hygge, and Cook County has an annual Hygge Week. But you don’t even have to leave the Twin Cities to find it. No matter your background or interests, you can embrace the concept indoors or outside.
Here are some of our favorite picks:
1. Inside a Finnish sauna (pronounced sow-na), you can socially sweat on cedar benches next to strangers in 190-degree heat. It’s not just a relaxing respite from the cold. At Little Box Sauna and 612 Sauna Society, two portable saunas that are set up outside lakes, museums and other local spots, it can be a gathering place to meet and mingle with people between dashes out into the snow. I met friends at 612 Sauna, where a couple were celebrating their anniversary of meeting there. Then at Little Box Sauna, we chatted with fellow sauna enthusiasts, who shared their favorite sauna spots around the world. (Go to 612saunasociety.com and littleboxsauna.com for details on where they’ll be next. It’s $25 for a 90-minute session.)
2. Spend an evening on ice at the Luminary Loppet, Minnesota’s great midwinter get-together. Nothing whispers hygge like walking (or skiing, if there’s enough snow) on a frozen lake encircled by hundreds of ice luminarias. Part processional, part party on ice, this annual event (held Feb. 2) at Minneapolis’ Lake of the Isles features ice sculptures, ice lanterns, ice skating performances, illuminated costumed characters, fire dancers and music — played on instruments made of ice. Do dress warmly. Do register in advance. (The event sells out.) And do spend one winter night outside getting your hygge on. Events begin at 6 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. $32, adults, $16 kids.(loppet.org.)
3. Find a home away from home. Although the term hygge conjures warm, homey feelings, cozying up at my own place isn’t necessarily that relaxing when it’s cluttered with toys and there’s a sink full of dishes. Also, the wood stove I promised my better half is still just a promise and not yet roaring to life in the living room. That’s why I seek hygge at the Lynhall (2640 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.), where I can nestle into a comfy leather couch in front of a crackling fire flanked by neat stacks of wood. It feels comforting and familiar, down to the throw pillow, as if it might be my own living room — were I the sort of person who inhabited a Pinterest-perfect, rustic-chic aesthetic, that is. But, unlike at home, all I have to do is sit back and lounge while someone else brews and delivers my ginger-molasses latté.
4. Warming up with wine is something I stumbled on — literally — 10 years ago when I visited Berlin in the depths of January. The city’s windy winter weather was miserable — the public sidewalks weren’t shoveled, not even near the touristy Brandenburg Gate. But I found pop-up glühwein stands everywhere I wandered, filling my belly with comfort and a tea-infused take on the hot drink. A decade later, sipping mulled wine remains a cherished wintertime ritual.
When subzero temps hit my Minneapolis apartment, embroidering the windows with frost, it’s time to pull out the 10-gallon pot and whip up a batch for neighbors and friends. I like the recipe that Kowalski’s distributed several seasons ago. It calls for apple cider, pure maple syrup, cinnamon sticks, sliced fruit and star anise for an extra Instagram-worthy touch. Pro tip: Use the cheapest red wine you can find.
There’s nothing cozier (or better-smelling) on an icy Saturday.
5. Cozying up with my book club always gets good reviews. Only a couple of our locations have fireplaces, and there are not always candles or cozy throws, but my book club never fails to deliver the hygge. It might have something to do with the fact that the group has some excellent bakers, so there’s a decent chance we’ll get some cake or cookies, or that I’m one-fourth Dane, so I carry a little hygge with me at all times. But it’s really about the monthly chance to catch up with people I have loved for many years and talk about something we all love (even if we don’t love that month’s selection): books.
6. Plant food takes on a new meaning at Bachman’s on Lyndale (6010 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.). Can’t eat out on your deck? It’s never too cold to have a bite in the store’s year-round garden. Patrick’s Bakery and Café inside the store has a dining patio surrounded by the lush smells of growing vegetation and the enticing aroma of damp soil. And you’re under glass, which means that as you dine on a menu that includes sandwiches, soups and sweets, you can soak up a little sun without worrying about the windchill. If you close your eyes, you can pretend it’s May.
7. Look up this suggestion. If a business research library doesn’t sound like a cozy place to visit, you’ve probably never been to the James J. Hill Center (80 W. 4th St., St. Paul). Not to be mistaken for the James J. Hill House, this historic building was formerly known as the James J. Hill Reference Library. Facing Rice Park in downtown, it features an elegant “Great Reading Room” that’s a popular venue for weddings. But it’s also a great place to catch a concert or a production of a historic radio play by the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society.
8. Winter under glass is on tap inside the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory next to the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. Shed your heavy coat. Breathe in the humid air. Gaze at the palm trees — which would be swaying except, of course, there’s no breeze. When you fill your lungs with the scent of moist, fertile dirt and see the tropical plants, ferns, orchids and bonsai trees under glass, you can forget that it’s still winter outdoors.
9. Hyyge doesn’t have to be huge. The Smallest Museum in St. Paul is a tiny treasure housed in a vintage 3- by 2-foot fire-hose cabinet outside the Workhorse Coffee Bar (2399 W. University Av., St. Paul) in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. There’s a rotating series of exhibits of miniature art and curiosities, including upcoming shows on “Lego Mosaics” and “Joys of Jell-O.” It’s free. You can visit at any time. And there’s hot coffee just a step away.
10. Check out a one-stop hygge shop. I love stopping into Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace (1601 E. Lake St., Mpls.) to stock up for a hygge-tastic night in, starting with Danish ball-shaped candles in every color of the rainbow (they even stock a reindeer horn candle snuffer). They have yarn and scores of Scandinavian knitting patterns. There’s also a huge selection of cozy wool socks and blankets. And maybe best of all: tons of cookie cutters in shapes like mittens, trolls, moose and trees.