When the going gets chilly, Nordic countries light up dark days with cosy, fireside gatherings crackling with friends, food and fun. Follow our hot tips from cold climates to help you thrive through the winter.
When winter blows a gale and darkness falls at 4pm, you might feel a little hard done by, but spare a thought for our Nordic friends who live close to the Arctic Circle – in midwinter there are only a few hours of daylight in some areas and, even then, the greyness can make it feel like dusk.
The Nordic region includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, and their associated territories – Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands. The long winter nights are caused by the tilt of the Earth, which spins at an angle as it revolves around the sun. During the winter, the northernmost parts of the Arctic Circle remain ‘hidden’ from the sun for 24 hours, so it is dark both day and night (known as a Polar Night).
You might be surprised to learn that despite the long hours of darkness and plummeting temperatures, Norway topped the United Nation’s World Happiness rankings for 2017, closely followed by Denmark and Iceland. So, just what is it that keeps these countries smiling all year round? The main factors found to support happiness were caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, a fair income and good governance – but it’s possible that hot coffee, ‘koselig’ and gooey ‘kladdkaka’ chocolate cake help too.
Koselig: how Norwegians get happy
Simply put, koselig is a Norwegian word that means a sense of cosiness. It can be applied to anything that makes you feel happy and content. During the dark, cold, winter months, people gather to light fires and candles, and to enjoy hot drinks, delicious food and the company of friends and family. Snuggling under woolly blankets, they settle into cosy mode, focusing on the warmth and light that sets winter aglow. Koselig isn’t just an excuse to sit on the sofa, veg out and watch Netflix though. There is a strong community aspect that inspires festivals and events that bring people together to chat and get active. The Swedes call this community energy livslust – a lust for life.
In Denmark, the word hygge describes a similar feeling – the wonderful sense of enjoying something and being completely enveloped in the experience – rather like getting a big, warm hug. Taking time to appreciate hygge is vital to happiness, particularly during the winter, whether it’s enjoying the company of friends around an open fire, observing the stars twinkling in
the night sky, or just watching a raindrop slowly trace
its way down a window pane. It has been suggested that these positive ways of experiencing the world might help to explain why Nordic countries score so highly in happiness rankings.
Nordic tips for surviving and thriving through winter
1 Layer up and get outside whatever the weather
There’s a saying in Sweden, Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder, which means there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. In the UK, people often bond over the dismal weather, but in Nordic countries the elements are something to be enjoyed rather than endured. Layer up Nordic style and get outside in search of fun whatever the weather. Wear a thin layer next to your skin – wool is ideal as it retains heat even if it gets wet. Add another thicker woollen mid-layer and a waterproof coat on top.
2 Change your mindset
Nordic countries embrace their winter and focus on the wonder and joy
of the season rather than the darkness and gloom. The wind, rain and snow are
a source of inspiration for poems, songs and artwork, and dark days are a time for creative reflection and a celebration of light, love and warmth.
3 Eat well
The Nordic diet is among the healthiest in the world, providing plenty of protein, omega-3s and antioxidants which support health and wellbeing. There is less emphasis on ready meals and fast food, with simple dishes usually being made from scratch. Fish such as herring, trout, mackerel and salmon are popular so try to get lots of oily fish in your diet. You’ll be pleased to know that cinnamon buns and gooey chocolate cake are also a popular treat.
Host your own cosy koselig gathering
Plan a koselig evening with family or friends. Crank up the cosiness with naturally scented candles, fairy lights, fluffy blankets and hot drinks. Ask your guests to wear winter jumpers and to bring slippers or woolly socks to snuggle up in. You could play winter-inspired music, too – it’s all about firing up the conversation and serving some treats. And don’t forget to blow out the candles before you go to bed.
Try these conversation starters for a cosy night in…
What inspires you about winter? Is there a song or poem that brings the season to mind? Do you have a favourite winter memory?
What could you do to bring more koselig and hygge into your life? And how could you help friends, family and pets to feel this, too?
Take inspiration from Nanna, Norse goddess of the moon, who was said to bring joy and peace. Which values would you embody?
Collaborate with your guests to tell winter tales that bring fire, joy and light into the season.
- Words: Sally Turner
- Photograph: Shutterstock
- Article originally from issue 2 of Teen Breathe – order digital edition here or print issue here
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