ColumnistsLife After 55

Embrace ‘Cozy Season’

We should make the most of all our winter weather by celebrating coziness

By Michele Bazan Reed  |  Email:

I’m writing this column with a steaming mug of hot cocoa on the table next to me, fuzzy slippers on my feet and a chunky cardigan over my shoulders. A candle on my bookcase scents the room with the spicy smell of apples and cinnamon, as my cat, Charlie, curls up asleep in front of the fire.

OK, the “fire” in question is actually an electric heater with fake logs and flickering lights, accompanied by a realistic crackling sound from a plastic box attached by a wire to the whole structure, but c’mon, a girl can dream, right?

If the scene above sounds cozy, that’s the point.

I am experiencing the ancient Danish practice of hygge, which disappointingly does NOT rhyme with piggy. It’s pronounced hyoo-guh and it is the essence of cozy.

Numerous scientific studies have designated Danes as the happiest people on the planet and hygge is probably one of the main reasons why. I mean, think about it, a whole tradition and culture centered around being warm and comfortable? Not to mention the hot cocoa and accompanying cookies? It only makes sense they’d be a happy people.

For those who haven’t encountered it yet, the principles of hygge are simple, centering on coziness, tranquility and hospitality. Because as cool as it is to hygge alone, it’s even better with friends, sharing a hot beverage (hot toddies count, right?), the warmth of the fire and relaxing conversation.

Textures are important to hygge and so you’ll see chunky knits: sweaters, throws, socks. Maybe a sheepskin rug on the floor under your feet. Cushy pillows with folk embroidery or macramé trim.

Calming, neutral colors are key, so deck out your hygge corner with warm tones of ivory, taupe and beige. No jarring hues to disturb the peace of the winter’s eve.

Fire is important, whether it be a fireplace — real or faux like mine — or candles. Bonus points for those wooden-wick candles that burn with a robust flame and make the crackling noises so essential to the feeling of coziness.

A hot beverage is key too, especially a nice, sweet creamy one — hot cocoa, a chai latte, milky tea with honey. It’s especially nice when shared with friends.

And that’s why hospitality is key to hygge. But luckily for us, hygge is anything but formal. No fancy table settings or wines paired with each course, the whole point of hygge is relaxing, easy friendship.

Relaxing music sets the tone, soft instrumentals, sweet, soft melodies, the essence of “easy” listening.

Don’t have all these things available? No problem. Like that other popular Scandinavian import, the smorgasbord, you can pick and choose the elements of hygge you like the best.

I’ve never been to Denmark but I assume, being Scandinavian, they have a winter weather marked by snow like ours or damp chilly drafts from the sea. It all calls for a bit of cozy, snuggling down under fluffy blankets or duvets, hot cocoa at the ready and a good book to keep you occupied.

Here in Central New York we are right now in what I like to think of as “cozy season,” that long stretch from New Year’s to Easter. The Christmas lights are long returned to the attic and the warmth of the spring sun is nowhere in sight.

We Central New Yorkers, like the Danes, have learned to make our own cozy. It helps that Mother Nature frequently gives us some enforced coziness. When a blizzard is raging outside, those of us fortunate enough to be retired can hunker down. We can watch Nature’s show from the comfort of our living rooms — or our bedrooms if we just don’t feel like getting out of our jammies and facing the day.

For me, a snow day means a big pot of chicken soup — my grandmother’s recipe — simmering on the stove for hours. Or beef stew in the crockpot. It comes together in minutes but gives pleasure for hours as the rich aromas of simmering meat and vegetables fill my home with warmth.

And then there’s the books. With undisturbed time for reading, there’s nothing like curling up with a nice hardcover or paperback book, preferably from one of our local independent booksellers or the public library. All year long, I enjoy my e-reader for its portability and built-in light source — not to mention the ability to MAKE THE TYPE REALLY BIG for these aging eyes. Or I listen to an audiobook as some skilled narrator brings the story to life as I go about my day doing laundry or cooking. But during cozy season, I want to read on paper. To feel the texture of the cover and pages of a good book in my hands. To smell that new book smell or the slight mustiness of a vintage volume. And don’t forget the convenience of falling asleep and having the book flop open to the exact last page you read face down on your chest. Your e-reader won’t do that! You’ll be searching for that last familiar page for hours.

Maybe your snow day rituals are different. Whatever they are, enjoy them with gusto. It’s one of the special perks of living in Central New York. Our friends and relatives who move away always say, “What I miss most are the seasons.” We should make the most of all our winter weather by celebrating coziness.

So this cozy season, try a bit of Danish culture and hygge along with me. You’ll be glad you did.