How do you translate ‘hygge’ from Danish?


I hate winter.  Sorry to start this post off on a negative note, but in order to better understand all that comes after, you need to understand a few things.  Before coming to England, I thought of winter as a season that would bite your ears off when outdoors, but wasn’t otherwise disagreeable.  After all, it’s warm inside and New York is at its prettiest in the snow.  Winter didn’t present many threats, except on the walk to school.

England, however, has changed all that.  Sure, winter may not arrive with the same ferocity as in New York, but English winters are threatening in their unpredictability.  Once the clocks fall forward in November, darkness eats up most of the day. Drops in temperature bring the fear that snow will blow in a stop life as we know it.  The only thing that is certain is that the heating will not be adequate.

Luckily, I’ve found a secret weapon to help me battle winter’s mood dampening effects.  That weapon is hygge.

One of the first things my mother asked me as we began to explore Copenhagen was if I had heard of hygge.  No, I replied, I hadn’t and received an explanation that only a procrastinating college professor could provide.  It’s the ineffable cozy quality.  It’s the feeling of sitting in front of a fire when it’s chilly outside.  We weren’t sure of the pronunciation, but, nevertheless, we eagerly began using the word.


I promptly forgot about it as I enjoyed New York’s most un-hygge summer.  Then I arrived in England, where fall had intruded upon summer, and made it my mission to turn my room into a hygge haven.

I’ve watched the Visit Denmark video about hygge.  I’ve read definitions and searched for photos.  Most of all, I’ve thought about what snug, what coziness and what winter at home means to me.  They mean everything from sweaters to endless cups of mint tea.  Hygge is a good book, a warm shower, low lighting and oatmeal.  Cinnamon, ginger and cloves are supremely hygge smells, as is warm laundry and the smell of someone entering from the cold.

To make my room as hygge as possible, I’ve swapped the overhead light for a variety of desk lamps and candles.  My floor has a cute little chevron rug.  Instead of putting up a generic poster, I’ve hung outdoorsy photos and personal photos on my wall.  On the bed are a few more pillows than advisable.  The room may have nearly no natural light (thank goodness the school of modern languages is all windows), but it’s starting to feel more and more like a Danish comfort cave.

Hygge Corner

I’ll spend my winter alternating huge sweaters, chunky hats and ironic scarves.  I may even forgo my love of being barefoot for some slippers, but only if they are truly cute.  There will be plenty of boots for outdoors adventures and, if I’m feeling really adventurous, I could buy a pair of earmuffs.  I’ll definitely stack a box full of homemade hand warmers.  They’ll double as foot warmers, I’m sure.

I may not be able to translate Danish hygge perfectly, but this winter (and fall) I’m working on translating it for me.  Be it snow, long nights, plenty of coffee or scandinavian-inspired meals, all this talk of hygge almost has me looking forward to the long winter before me.  Almost.

What does cozy, home-like and inviting (or hygge!) mean to you?


9 thoughts on “How do you translate ‘hygge’ from Danish?

  1. emilygotta

    I love discovering new words that just ‘fit.’ I’m from Minnesota, so I’m used to cold winters, but there is something about the English cold that is hard to shake!

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