Astrid Eddie and Judith Ryan enjoying hygge in the fall of 1989. (Judith Ryan / Contributed)

Hygge counters winter’s chill | My Kingston Life

Hygge (hue-gah): The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive.

After coming across this Danish word and its meaning recently, I thought, “Oh my gosh, ‘yes’!” I love living in hygge. People gathered together to share life’s simple pleasures and their heart warmth.

Without words, hygge says, “You are not alone,” “I will keep you warm,” “Come, play with me,” “I see you.”

Creating physical and emotional closeness happens easily around common needs. The crackling fire that warms us; the food made from scratch; the shared blanket; the board games played with laughter and kidding; the music recorded or created. All these everyday activities conspire to bring comfort and a sense of well-being, which is magnified when paired with presence. Presence is more than being there. It is being there with one’s attention in our moment-to-moment experiences.

As we moved through the holidays and into deep winter, I savored the special gatherings of family and friends that make up my hygge.

The preparation for my son and grandchildren’s Christmas visit was a happy time for me. From making the beef stew to setting the pine-scented fire in the wood stove, to turning on all the window lights and table candles. Awash in simple pleasures, we were warmed inside and out. Our modest stack of presents were opened one at a time, both to lengthen the enjoyment and to heighten anticipation.

We set up the Monopoly game as we’ve done so many times before. Eleanor at 8 years old is old enough to handle the real estate, and William has been the banker since he was 3. We chose our “riders”. I usually wind up with the foot or the thimble, leaving the horse, car and dog for the kids. For me, it’s the chit-chat while we romp around the board’s edges that is the heart of the game.

Hygge can be employed throughout the year with picnics, hikes and other shared activities. However, during our Northwest winters, when we have so little daylight, the benefit from stoking the embers of communal warmth seems enhanced and necessary.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, I like to think about Big Love, not The One big love. As John Paul Young wrote, “Love is in the air, everywhere we look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.”

I hope you are all surrounded and suffused with love that flows through your day-to-day, simple pleasures.

— Judith Ryan teaches writing and photography classes at the Village Green Community Center. You can contact her at judith@jjr create.com.