I’ve just spent my first winter in New England in 12 years. There was record-breaking snow and because of it I spent more days feeling like an arctic hostage than any I remember experiencing as a child. But, alas, I’ve made it though, and as I watch the trees begin to unfold their limey green leaves, I feel a general thaw coming to the region.
The first blooms you can trust in this region belong to the majestic Magnolia tree, whose giant teacup saucer petals burst forth before the leaves even bud. The pear blossoms explode around the same time, lining their long limbs with tiny white flowers. Before you know it, crocuses, tulips and hyacinths make themselves known below these limbs and we, collectively, release a sigh. We can trust that we are likely out of the snowy woods for another year. We are wary though, for we’ve been tricked in the past- all of the flowers have frozen under frost and snow before.
People walk to work now with posture upright, no more shielding of faces or lunging into the wind. More smiles and remarkably fewer angry faces are seen on the street. We Bostonians take our time, feel the sunshine and its warmth, and dare to hope this continues. We leave the comfort of our heated homes and woolen sweaters to bare our blue-ish tinted arms and wind-worn faces to the sun, laying our blankets down on the first blades of grass. The scents of lilac and lily-of-the-valley begin to permeate.
I understand now, as I haven’t ever in my adult life, what it feels like to live in a truly harsh climate. I am reminded of past travels, for I spent the summer, a few years back, traveling through Scandinavia. I spent most of my time in Denmark, and read lots of Lonely Planet in preparation. The guide makes clear that if you travel in the spring or summer, that most of the Danes, and you if you want to act like a Dane while there, will spend as much time as possible in the parks, for it is there that they experience their springtime thaw.
I thought this was funny—I was a Californian at the time, accustomed to ever perfect weather—why would a whole population be compelled to the gardens all day everyday just because the sun is shining? Clearly, I was being shortsighted. Denmark has a very harsh winter. It is far enough North to have very little sunlight for much of the season. Days are so short that the people take to their fireplaces, light their candles, and invite all to tea. There is an untranslatable word in Danish, hygge, that basically means a feeling of coziness and warmth. Oftentimes this feeling is referred to when describing an environment where conversation and ambiance is purposefully heightened to create a feeling of place and purpose. I saw this as a universal interest in one another and a desire to create beauty and comfort around you. It was, in effect, the deliberate making of a memory. I also see it as a little bit escapist; if we concentrate on the beauty and warmth we’ve created together in our little nook, then we can overlook the frigid winds and dark days outside. I see this as a distinctly wintery custom. I always picture a fireplace and hot chocolate (the Danes love their cocoa milk!). I channeled this custom many times this winter while attempting to create a cocoon around me to secure from the cold.
The flipside is how a Dane creates this feeling in the summertime, and I see hygge in the parks and gardens. These are Central and Golden Gate Parks type greenery. Large, established trees overhead, elaborate flower gardens, themed gardens for scent, fruit, color…all manicured and welcoming. These gardens are how the Danish government creates hygge for their people. They are the Danish living rooms: places for meals, naps, games, parties, visiting and just enjoying the warmth. Families and friends really do spend the day too. Baskets of food, multiple games, books and babies are packed up to enjoy to comfort of these centrally located and safe gardens. Parks seem to be where Danes go to make summertime memories.
I made like a Dane; I got a coffee and a wienerbrød, a book and blanket. I spent the day in Kongens Have, or, the King’s Gardens. I napped, I read, I gazed at trees above me, and felt as if I could stay wrapped in the embrace of the far north sun for as long it shined.
It’s spring in the entire Northern Hemisphere right now. Get outside and enjoy the flowers and sun, create some hygge for yourself and your friends.