… on a translation of danish to dingle

When I run the Danish word, ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’ or ‘hew-gah’), through my computer’s de facto translator, it decodes to ‘coziness’. In definitions, and multiple googled descriptions, that word is often spelled, ‘cosiness’. This makes me – a person whose favorite little harbor in Maine is known as both ‘Cozy’ and ‘Cosy’ Harbor – feel all kinds of… hygge.


Apologies to Danes everywhere, as that is not an optimal (nor correct) use of ‘hygge’. As with so many words and/or concepts in different languages, there really isn’t a direct translation.

There was (is), however, a book.

That book, published back in 2017, is called The Little Book of Hygge. Through it, the author introduced the idea of hygge to heaps of people, including Americans (who immediately broke down the concept of quiet contentment into a series of checklists and spreadsheets we could stress ourselves out with use as guides to master all things hygge).

When I first learned about hygge, I found the descriptions and historical references confusing.

For instance, one description went something like, ‘enjoying good things with good people’, which seemed not only subjective, but a little extro-ableist.

That’s short for extrovert-ableist (a totally legit term).

Another website said the feeling of hygge was inspired by viking lodges, which tend to evoke NOT a feeling of warm and cozy, as much as frigid cold, the scent of fear, and the distinct possibility of spontaneous pillaging.


When I pivoted to the examples of things and happenings that evoked the feelings associated with hygge, things became a bit more clear.



Soft blankets.

Cozy/cosy sweaters.

Small gatherings.

I was certainly pro all of those things as components of cozy/cosy (which is not a direct translation but… (gah!)).

But then I stumbled across the fact that various definitions of hygge date back to the Middle Ages, when a similar Old Norse word meant ‘protected from the outside world’.

And I was all, ‘Ooooooooooh….’

Like… a refuge.

A safe haven.

In Dingle (this family, not the peninsula), the danish concept of hygge translates to ‘huggy’.

We’ve used ‘huggy’ in our family since… well, almost since we were all a family. I think I first said it out loud in 1992 or 1993, when JoHn, Mac (baby version), Granny, Grampa and I were about to move into our first home together. ‘Huggy’ was the best way I could describe the goal for the house I was designing (on an original Macintosh computer, using –  hangs head in mock shame – MacDraw). ‘Huggy’ was an aspiration, a feeling, and it became a guiding principal.

A home that felt like a hug.

The house was based on a New England saltbox design from the 1600s, with the long slanted rear roof not only making it easy for snow to slide off, but also providing protection from the northern winds and cold. It was stained a deep brown, a nod to the look of the nearly black, well weathered clapboards on the truly old, original saltbox houses still standing.

It wasn’t a strict reproduction (evidence: sponge-painted walls in the kitchen (what? It was the early 90s)), but that house was cozied up by wide pine floors, warm paint colors, the soft glow of lanterns, and a billion other decisions, right down to the seventeen hundred cabinet knobs (felt like that), each made with the ultimate sense of comfort, contentment – huggy-ness – as the goal. Along the way, certain compromises (and tradeoffs) had to be made (we had a very limited (and very strict) budget) but, of course, we had our guiding principal in place.

For instance – I don’t want to bring up any past arguments with a certain Old Yankee Man– but who wouldn’t trade an attached garage for a center chimney and honkin’ kitchen fireplace?!

Twenty five year old me was unfazed by the snow dumped from Nor’easters, life threatening sheets of ice, and spring’s drenching rains (Still don’t regret it. That fireplace was awesome.)

So, initially, huggy was about the creation of a warm and welcoming home, where we, our families, and our friends (current and ‘to be’) could exhale into cozy (cosy). And this, of course, was very consistent with ‘hygge’ (but I couldn’t call it that because the concept hadn’t broken out of Denmark yet).

Also, here’s the thing.

Over the years, I began to pay attention to the best gatherings – the ones where not only did our friends/family/guest(s) have a great time, but JoHn and I, Granny and Grampa, the kids (whoever was up and involved) also had so much fun and/or felt such a degree of comfort and connection, that it overflowed into the next day.

The hug… the huggy-ness… lingered.

Eventually, it clicked.

The flowers were most likely fresh, and displayed simply.

The food was probably not poisonous.

The playlist may have approached sublime.

The house was relatively (relatively!) uncluttered, the candles were lit, and – if there was a chill in the air – I can pretty much guarantee there was a crackling fire in the fireplace.

But those moments – the best ones, the ones curated and placed on memory pedestals – were not primarily the result of my huggily designed house or the effort put forth in planning a gathering.

There was a different type of comfort at play – enhanced by the atmosphere, perhaps – but altogether different than what a super soft throw blanket can offer. Those present felt welcomed – not just by us, but by each other too – and they felt comfortable and embraced and accepted for… being themselves.

People could just be themselves.

Sounds easy right? Totally straightforward.

But it isn’t.

It takes people opening themselves up to do that. There is vulnerability, along with acceptance – not just of different points of view and different ways of being – but of all the weirdness and wildness and wondrousness that makes us each… us.

Don’t get me wrong, the warmth of a wood fire, along with great comfy socks (also, possibly, a stunning tablescape) will always kick huggy up a notch, but you also need the people-feeling-accepted thing to really pull it off.

Otherwise there’s the risk of someone feeling alone or chafe-y or disconnected… in a cozily decorated room with lots of candles and sheepskins.

Huggy is a guiding principal. We can’t nail it all the time – not for ourselves, not for everyone else. It’s aspirational.

It’s also addictive, once you experience it.

Giving usually is.

Thanks for readin’.

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