Cozy Gezellig, the Cure to Winter Blues

By: Niki Fritz

Even though I’m from the Wisconsin, where winter is the default season and babies are basically born with snow boots on, there still comes a point every winter when I’m done. After months of shoveling, de-icing, slipping on poorly salted sidewalks, there is always a point in March when I just want to give up and let winter win.

Last week was that breaking point for me this Indiana winter. After de-icying my car the night before, I woke up to find a plow had buried my car up to the wheels. That car wasn’t moving anytime soon. I felt stuck and defeated by winter.

Then a friend in Communication and Culture sent me a link explaining the Danish word “hygge”, which basically means hunkering down into coziness with good friends and wine during winter. My take on hygge was embracing the winter by settling down into it.

Irene in a "brown cafe" with a local bar cat

Irene in a “brown cafe” with a local bar cat

I asked one of my favorite almost Scandanavians, Irene, if they used the concept of hygge in The Netherlands. She explained the Dutch have the word “gezellig,” which kind of means “complete relaxation.” Gezellig sounded lovely to me.

“Defining ‘gezellig’ is pretty tough,” Irene tells me. “The concept captures an atmosphere. If something is gezellig depends on your surroundings, the people you are with, food, drinks, lighting, the whole shebang. Gezellig, I think, is mainly a feeling of intimacy, belonging, warmth, happiness that is created when you mix the right factors together.”

In Amsterdam, Irene explains that there are certain cafes that are gezellig, called “brown cafes.” They usually have wooden furniture, a cuddly bar cat and a warm atmosphere. But she explains the concept can be extended much farther. Streets, shops and houses can all carry the adjective of gezellig. Or it can be a feeling while you snuggle into a tent when it is raining outside. Gezellig is a multipurpose word.

“My ideal gezellig involves candles, fireplace, good friends or family, my own piece of mind – a dangling deadline doesn’t add to the level of gezellig – a table full of hapjes on the table,” Irene says. “And wine would be great too.”

DSCN0709With my new found understanding of gezellig, I was all set on Wednesday night to have a dinner and wine with some friends and just embrace the Indiana weather. And then it snowed AGAIN, the roadways became death traps and my friends had to cancel. But since I’d been told gezellig doesn’t necessarily have to be with friends – just total relaxation – I put on my slippers, turned on my fake fireplace, poured myself a generous glass of wine and settled into the night, watching it snow and being totally thrilled I was inside and cozy.

I felt like I was rocking this gezellig and maybe starting to embrace the dredges of winter.

I asked some other Telecom students how they embraced the coziness of winter. While Nic and Teresa brave the cold to grill, Jess likes to stay in and bake. Ashley’s dog baby Jack likes to frolic in the snow, while Mona’s Harry likse to cuddle in for the winter. Many seem to have created their own rituals, their own ways of gezellig, a time to embrace the cold and relax into it.

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In a world that so often asks us to be constantly pushing forward no matter how cold is the wind slapping our faces, gezellig can be a nice reminder that sometimes you need the warmth and renewal of a fire and some friends; sometimes you need to hunker down and embrace that winter may have defeated your car but never your spirit.

Now that it appears the days may be getting warmer, it may seem that days of gezellig are numbered. But Irene assures me that gezellig can take place during any season; the key is just to let it find you.

“You can’t force gezellig. It’s there or it isn’t,” Irene says. “But luckily it’s not a limited source.”