A couple of years ago, I stumbled across the Danish concept of hygge, which was summed up at the time as “convivial cosiness”. The winter blues have sometimes bitten me quite deeply, so around late October, when we’re facing four or five months of cold days and long, dark nights, it can be challenging – there have been years when the path to March has seemed a very steep mountain to climb.
I’d experimented with a few hygge-type things before, but delving deeper into the philosophy behind it helped me connect it all together, and think differently about my approach to the change in season. So the past two winters, I’ve tried to develop a way of using the principles of hygge to embrace winter, to enjoy it, and not to feel I have to fight it. I *think* it really helps. It certainly makes the winter more pleasurable.
Here are ten small things that help me welcome winter. I’d love to hear what you do too.
1. Cosy clothes
Snuggling into the softest, oldest, most favourite t-shirts. Brushed cotton pyjamas. Touches of cashmere. It’s not the time to squeeze, buckle and belt ourselves into constricting or sculpting clothing. “Loungewear” is a frightful word, but yoga pants feel like bliss (and I won’t judge you if you wear a onesie). These are clothes for sofa marathons and comfortable snoozing.
2. Throws and blankets
Every sofa needs a soft, fluffy blanket or throw slung across the back, within reach in the evenings. And who says blanket forts are only for little ones? At home, I’m wrapped in woolly ponchos, shawls and patchwork quilts from October to February. Yes, sometimes I look like the grandma in Little Red Riding Hood. Come a little closer, dear …
3. Lots of lights
The soft glow of fairy lights is clinically proven to improve people’s mood by at least 20%, science fact*. Add to those the flicker of tea lights in porcelain cups, candles scented with cinnamon or pine and gentle side lighting, and you’re all set. (Have you noticed how candlelight also makes people look more youthful? It’s better than an Instagram filter! Which is quite handy, given how drying winter air can be for our upper epidermis.)
All. The. Tea. I like it decaffeinated and spicy – here’s a simple chai recipe. Pots and pots of herbal tea – lemon and ginger at this time of year. Pop in some turmeric if you’re under the weather – a tip from an old friend that I swear helps fight off the bugs. If you’ve succumbed to a virus, fresh lemon juice, honey and grated fresh ginger could pep you up – perhaps add a small shot of whisky to be sure …
5. Fluffy socks
100% essential – so much so that they deserve a special entry of their own. Soft wool for the cosiest toes, stripes for joy – if you’re super lucky, a pair knitted by a friend.
6. Comfort food
Now’s the time of year for dishes that are nourishing, comforting and piping hot. Slow-cooked casseroles, variations on macaroni cheese, pinches of cayenne in almost everything. I get very enthusiastic about pulses and root vegetables. Spiced butternut squash or pea and ham soup; beef stew and dumplings; belly pork slow-cooked with Chinese five spice and soy sauce are all favourites here. All kinds of dhal, of course, to go with curries cooked long and gently in the oven.
Or something sweet – perhaps some hot, buttery cinnamon toast, or old-school marshmallows to cosset you with their softness. Off the shelf, Tunnock’s dark chocolate teacakes and Tyrell’s coconut poshcorn both make my list. And if you’re feeling very naughty, this sponge pudding is dangerously easy in the microwave – and absolutely delicious.
7. Real fires
That smell, though. Here are 13 cosy London pubs with fires. Extra points for pub cats.
8. Going outside – so you can come inside
The simple pleasure of coming into the warm after a blustery walk in all the weathers, cheeks pinched pink by the cold.
Kicking up the autumn leaves, then kicking off your boots and swapping outdoors clothes for pyjamas via a steaming hot bath.
Sparklers and stargazing on a frosty night, no reason, just because.
9. Softer music
Winter has an alt-folk soundtrack at home, with a bit of dreampop (layered, like our blankets) and 20th/21st-century classical. Kate Rusby, Gemma Hayes, Bat for Lashes, Richard Hawley – these are the people I turn to, with a little help from Arvo Part and Radio 3. (Pro tip: Out of the house, the Festival Hall has extremely comfortable seats and is always lovely and warm.)
10. Actual newspapers and proper books
I get most of the news online, but there’s something about curling up with the papers and a big pot of tea at this time of year that’s irresistible. Or settling down with a book, a cat and a blanket for a quiet afternoon. Better still if the rain is pattering down or the wind’s blowing up a storm outside.
That’s my 10. And it’s the combination, and the conscious approach, that’s made the difference. So much of it boils down to a different kind of living in the winter, one that accepts the change in weather and adjusts to fit. Hot baths, face masks, sleeping in a little bit more – and for me, vitamin D supplements – generally getting a bit less Tigger and a little more Moomin about the way I approach life.
What’re your ways to get through the winter? I’d love to hear.
*okay, this is not a science fact as far as I know, but if it were researched, I’m sure that’s what they’d find.