Do you know about Hygge? Even if you’re not familiar with the word, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when I tell you. Hygge is that beautiful tradition that encourages us to put on our cozy knitted socks and wrap up in one of those super chunky knit blankets with candles all around. It’s eating warm soup and sitting by the fireside. It’s light, and warm, and oh-so-photogenic.
You with me now? I’m sure you are. But I’m actually here to talk about something else today, because did y’all know that hygge has a dark side?
My mind is being blown by this fact, but apparently not all things hygge… are hygge.
A new term I learned recently, Uhyggelig, could literally be defined as the absence of hygge. It is the lack of all that coziness, cheer and comfort that we crave; the things that are fueling us through these cold days and nights and making our Instagram feeds light up with tiny string lights draped in rooms full of fluffy white things.
Frankly, it’s scary.
As in, google ‘Uhyggelig’ this week and all the results will have something to do with the festivities of October 31st. Because deep down, it’s a whole lot more than just the ‘opposite of hygge’; this word is translated as meaning “dismal, ominous, sinister, evil”. Sounds fun, right? But I mean, I guess it does present some interesting points.
Uhyggelig appeared in my research when I came across Danish author Dorthe Nors’ short story, “Hygge”.
How cute!, you must be thinking. What a great piece to cuddle up to this winter! But no. No, dear reader. This story is exactly the opposite of cute. I think someone gets murdered in the end. If not that, they’re under a table with their mouth and eyes agape – and that sure can’t be good hygge now, can it?
So why, in all tarnation, did Nors call this story “Hygge”? It’s completely anti-hygge! And I think that’s her point. Because uhygge is a legitimate thing.
Apparently, Nors wants to expose both the light and the darkness presented by hygge, which, to my dismay, isn’t just about those cozy knitted things. Hygge is a way of life, but it’s also a way of covering up, a way of escaping. Which, for Danes, sometimes means brushing their true feelings under the rug. Danish Noir, Nors might call it. And when you get noir, you get the uhygge. When people start hiding their feelings, when things aren’t truly all they’re cracked up to be…the darkness creeps in. Happy Halloween!
I’ve been growing quite excited about getting my hygge on this winter. But finding out this new truth is like finding out our president is actually a liar, a cheat and a general scoundrel (hmmmm…wait).
All of that aside, my excitement stems from the fact that Rockvale Writers’ Colony (ahem, shameless plug – if you’re a writer, check us out!) is planning on hosting a Hygge Poetry Retreat in the first weekend of December. Which means I’m happily spending my days researching this Danish word and trying to find poems, recipes and images that will serve us well over that time.
For the most part, responses have been extremely positive about our theme, which makes it all the more fun to fantasize about. Only one naysayer opted to tell us we were “using” hygge and it wasn’t appropriate in poetry, but heck – aren’t we all using hygge just a bit? I mean, hygge is defining the marketplace right now! Because no one wants to be cold. No one wants to sit in the dark without candles. And no one wants to be really, truly alone….
But uhyggelig does. Dun, dun, dunnnhhhh.
(Yep. Her again.)
Uhyggelig wants us to live without all those knit blankets that are 40% off at West Elm right now. It wants us to eat bran and watch a horror movie marathon until springtime.
Bleh. Why even bother thinking about this subject? I have Christmas decorations to prep for! But I digress –
I guess what has me confounded in looking ahead to my “cozy” hygge winter is this: now that we know the truth, can we truly enjoy the hygge without recognizing the uhygge that comes out of it? Is it okay to pretend like the only hygge out there is good? Like there isn’t a darkness lurking between those knitted threads covering up the truth?
Don’t we need both? Doesn’t poetry depend on both?
I think whether it’s acknowledged or not, the uhyggelig is what makes the hygge worthwhile. We can’t ignore it, because it will always make its unwelcomed appearance. And after a year like this, it’s what makes a “retreat” necessary. Every hero needs an antihero in order to survive, to grow, to thrive and prosper. And uhygge is our antihero.
But there’s also nothing wrong with trying to feel good. And there’s nothing wrong with just escaping for a little bit, to clear our heads, because without the bad there’s no way to make things better. Without the good, we’d all just be drowning in sorrow until the end of time.
This is America – we’re not so embedded in pretending things are alright that we can’t fix what’s wrong. And with a little bit of hygge, a little bit of optimism, and a whole lot of action – whether it’s a poem that warms your heart or the ballot you cast next Tuesday – we’ll get through.