A Hyggelig Winter


Hannah Derry recounts her experience of Winter in Aarhus, Denmark

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Image by Hannah Derry

By Hannah Derry

Hygge is a bit of a commodity in Denmark – one need only take a visit to Copenhagen to see a dozen tourist-trap shops selling merchandise plastered with the word. I was first introduced to the concept of Hygge when I was 15 years old, during a Scandinavian cultural wave in the 2010s. As I remember it, the wave consisted of minimalist aesthetics, chic home decor and lots of knits, as well as numerous books on how to live more like a Scandinavian. At that time in the UK, Hygge simply equated to cosiness and was sold as candles, lights and cakes. I thought it was great and I bought into it. Yet, by the time I applied to study abroad in Denmark in my 20s, that concept of Hygge no longer captivated me – other aspects of Danish culture held much more sway for me at this time. Little did I realise how central the concept of Hygge would become to my experience studying in Aarhus. Despite its commercialisation, Hygge really is alive and well in Denmark (and not just in the form of candles and woolly blankets). Here, I will share some hyggelig moments from my time in Aarhus.

At home, one of my favourite parts of the lead up to Christmas is attending the Sankta Lucia service held in York Minster in collaboration with York Anglo-Scandinavian Society. The holiday is a celebration of light, which is very comforting in the darkness of Winter (whether in the UK or elsewhere). Luckily I did not miss out on the festivities of Sankta Lucia whilst away in Denmark. Around the city, there were various processions to mark Sankta Lucia – even in the campus library! And of course, I could not miss out on the delicious saffron buns (Lussekatter) which are traditionally eaten around the holiday.

Another essential for the holidays in Denmark is to enjoy a Julefrokost (Christmas lunch) with friends. Despite its literal translation, Julefrokost is not limited only to Christmas day. In fact, many Danes have multiple rounds of Julefrokost in the lead up to Christmas; Julefrokost is a means to celebrate the holidays with loved ones and is an especially good way to celebrate with friends you may not see on Christmas day. For our Julefrokost, I went out with a group of friends to enjoy some traditional Danish food. The pickled herring may have received mixed reviews from our group, but the risalamande (a rice pudding made with cream, chopped almonds and served with cherry sauce) was definitely a hit! Besides being very lækker (tasty), risalamande is a dish with its own game. One whole almond is added to the risalamande, alongside the chopped almonds. Whoever receives the whole almond must secretly hide it in their mouth, without breaking it, until everyone has finished eating. Meanwhile, everyone else tries to guess who has the whole almond – they win if they guess correctly and if they do not, then the almond recipient wins.

Games really permeate Danish social culture – actually, half of my first introductory day at the Natural Sciences faculty at Aarhus University consisted of playing games, much to my initial alarm. I will admit though that the game culture did grow on me. Throughout winter, my friends and I could often be found at the Studenterhus playing games, attending pub quizzes and enjoying a drink. It is the social aspect of Hygge which really struck me in Denmark. Cold winter evenings are certainly a lot more bearable when you know that you can spend them in good company. One of these evenings, I spent at a board game cafe (there are multiple of these throughout Aarhus) in the city with a group of international friends – this was a great chance to forget about the stress of studying and have some fun.

The final hyggelig moment I will share is my international Christmas Eve. During the holidays, some friends returned to their home countries whilst others stayed in Aarhus. I stayed in Aarhus over the holidays and was glad to experience a Danish Christmas. Alongside an exchange friend, who also stayed in Aarhus, I attended the festivities put on by the Studenterhus Aarhus for Christmas Eve. The Studenterhus invites internationals staying in Aarhus over the holidays to spend Christmas Eve together (it turned out that Christmas and Hanukkah coincided last year, so we celebrated both).  This was a great memory from Aarhus – we played Christmas games; drank gløgg; exchanged gifts; enjoyed Danish culture and food; as well as bringing our own traditions!