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How To Host A Hygge Holiday Party: Get Cozy, Embrace Imperfection

Dec 21, 2017

Forget the party dresses and uncomfortable shoes. Toss the fussy canapés — and instead, simmer the soup.

At writer and radio producer Anne Ford's holiday party this year, it's all about comfort. "I like the idea of having some kind of holiday celebration, but not the kind where you have to wear sequins and high heels and drink champagne cocktails. I want to sit ... with a blanket and eat latkes and just be chill about it."

This year, Ford's party plan is about warmth, food and fellowship. It's about hygge — the Nordic concept often translated as a sort of coziness. Which Ford says is exactly what's needed.

At the end of what's felt like a long year, "I think we're all just a little battle-scarred," she says. "And low-key, comfy things just sound good."

Perhaps for this reason, a number of holiday parties across the country this year are re-emerging as hygge parties. We may be hungering for connection and coziness, but how exactly is it achieved?

"It's very ingrained in our language — we define everything as to whether it's hyggelig [hygge-like] or not," says chef and food writer and Trine Hahnemann. She comes from the birthplace of hygge — Denmark.

But the translation is not precise.

"I think it's really difficult to find a word that really covers it," sighs Hahnemann. "I think that's why people are taking up the word, because it's difficult to find a word that totally defines it in English. Which is rare," she laughs, "because you have so many more words than we do."

"Cozy" is the most common description — think thick blankets and mugs of tea in front of the fire while the snow falls outside. Hahnemann says hygge is that, "but it can also be in the summer, at 10 o'clock, with a drink somewhere."

"It's celebrations, but also a day-to-day thing. Morning coffee is hyggelig. Understanding all the little special moments during the day, where you have a pause, where you relax a little."

It's an admirable goal, and one that most of us would admit to craving. But how do you actually host a hygge gathering?

"You need candles," advises Hahnemann. "It's about making sure people are welcomed right away, with something to eat and drink, unless you've invited them to help you cook."

And Hahnemann stresses that this food doesn't need to be fancy. It's not about making sure everything is perfect. It's about gathering together and finding fellowship in our imperfect humanity.

Although the internet will make you think it's about creating a #blessed moment, hygge is really all about putting down your phone, she says.

"If you have a dinner table, and three of four people are on their phones — that's not hygge... Hygge is about these little pauses, where you actually have a cup of tea or coffee, and just sit for a minute without doing anything. And just be. And that seems to be disappearing in our culture."

And if those small quiet moments are disappearing in a country with five weeks of paid vacation and a year of paid parental leave — well, it's safe to say that here in the rush of America we could use a little help as well.

Photographer and food writer Leela Cyd, who wrote the book Tasting Hygge, is on a mission to show that these sort of moments — either big and celebratory, or slipped into your everyday — are within easy reach. And she says that's especially true during the holidays.

"Invite people over — don't worry about cleaning your house," Cyd reassures. "Light whatever candles you like. Put some music on. Don't worry if you don't have a table! Eat at a coffee table — the more casual and intimate the better."

Although Cyd fusses over shape and composition in her photographs, she embraces the imperfect presence of hygge in daily life — even more so since having a baby earlier this year. Asking friends over to her gloriously messy new-baby home and asking them for a little help has made pretty much every gathering a hygge one. And she encourages others to do the same.

"Don't wait, just invite people. I think it makes people feel more loved and convivial when it's not a big plan, and nothing looks perfect. That's what life is."

In her cookbook, Cyd gives a few nods to the Scandinavian flavors of hygge's birthland — spiced glogg, tea cakes with cardamom, enriched buns piled high with almond cream. But more often than not, it's just about foods that evoke calm and comfort — cheesy toasts, porridges and pancakes, sticky cakes, and a glazed turnip soup that can gently burble on the stove for a few hours as friends drop by.

Writer Anne Ford says her hygge holiday party menu is still being debated. But there will definitely be latkes (with homemade applesauce), and a trio of soups ("I'm not sure which, but they'll be thick and comforting").. She'll get some wassail going in the crockpot so that the house smells good, and light candles everywhere. There will be cozy socks and sweaters. There will be blankets and cats. And as 2017 draws to a close, Ford says this is just what we need.

Deena Prichep is a freelance print and radio journalist based in Portland, Ore.

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