Denmark is the birthplace of a movement – almost a religion – that the rest of the world has also recently discovered – hygge. Hygge (pronounced hooga), adj. hyggeligt (rhymes with google-it) is similar to gezelligheid in Holland and we Canadians call it homey or hominess.
But Danes have taken it to another level by using it as a verb (“come over and hygge with us tonight”) and as the very definition of their culture. As Meik Wiking says in “The little book of Hygge,” what freedom is to the Americans, what thoroughness is to the Germans, and the stiff upper lip to the British, hygge is to Danes.
Candles are an absolute necessity for hygge, and Danes burn around thirteen POUNDS of candle wax EACH – every year. Comfy chairs, fireplaces, books and company are also on the hygge list, although you can also hygge all by yourself with your hygge comfy pants and hygge hot chocolate. Which is probably why the cafeteria on the top floor of the large department store Le Magasin in downtown Copenhagen looks more like a living room than a fast food restaurant.
We took a canal tour of Copenhagen, walked the main shopping street – just full of hyggeligt little stores and a central fountain which is a gathering place – and discovered Nyhavn (New Harbour). Nyhavn is the place you see on jigsaw puzzles and postcards, and dates from 1670. The Danes call it the longest bar in the world, and each one has an outdoor seating area with heaters and blankets to take away any chill. Hans Christian Andersen wrote his earliest stories here and loved the area so much that he had three separate addresses within a few houses of each other.
Speaking of Hans Christian Andersen, of course we saw the Little Mermaid which has become Denmark’s iconic symbol. Den Lille Havfrue sits on a rock in the harbour, looking “far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as a cornflower, as clear as crystal, and very, very deep…” (which is how the story begins).
We were reminiscing that so many of Andersen’s stories are so very sad, and I have heard that Andersen himself is a character in every story – the awkward duckling that everyone made fun of, the mermaid who could not find love (a lot different from the Disney version!), the unappreciated nightingale.
Big sigh. Our day was a romantic and very hyggeligt introduction to our Baltic cruise.