Snuggle up with koselighet

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2016

The yarn that keeps us knitted together, especially through winter.

April CaverhillON A RECENT MOONLESS NIGHT when the wind was once again mitt-slapping rain against the house, I was curled up on the couch with an article about life in Norway’s far north. Winter hits cold and hard in these small tundra towns: Even the sun shrinks away to just a thin, indifferent glimmer on the horizon. You’d think the people who live here would be more prone to seasonal depression, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

“Why would we be?” they ask quizzically, explaining that the close-knit nature of their communities and love for the outdoors keep them well buoyed through the long winters. Norwegians, it turns out, believe there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices. And they fully embrace the notion of koselighet, a word the author then tries and fails to define in English.

I straighten up. I recognize that word. I know it in Dutch: gezelligheid, a term that also evades translation but is the essence of social interaction, intimate settings and personal serenity. Think of love, camaraderie, contentment, comfort and joy all rolled up into one abstract word. Think of that shivery-cozy feeling that comes when the moment is perfect and wellbeing overflows. 

For years my siblings and I have been searching for that one English word that can explain this hallowed notion to family newcomers—you know, those nice boys and girls who eventually become husbands and wives. But we failed of course, so they all had to plunge in and grasp it holistically, as did the children who followed. Now they all love gezelligheid too. 

In Norway, koselighet is the yarn that keeps northern communities knitted together, especially through winter. A companionable evening that involves candles, fine music, a crackling fire, a glass of wine and simple good food certainly invokes the inner warmth of koselighet. So do fuzzy socks and lap blankets, mugs of hot chocolate or cider after coming in from the cold, and feet up on the coffee table. Offering slippers to your guests is very koselig. Fussing and stressing over any of this is decidedly not. You see the pattern.

Thankfully our winter is not nearly as long and cold as it is in the north, but that’s not to suggest we don’t have our own challenges. There’s the incessant rain that ironically tends to keep us more house bound than a snowy landscape would. The protracted parade of dimly lit days that fade early into darkness certainly wears on the mood as well. But never mind: koselighet/gezelligheid can be our tonic too. 

Friends gathering over a big pot of chili, a stack of great novels, and your best-loved scarf all have the kernel of koselig. A walk along the ocean or up Mount Work with your pal and a backpack carrying tea for two—mmm, so gezellig. Glowing candles and strings of warm lights, whether for welcoming friends or enjoying contented alone time, are definitely koselig. So is a favourite mug in your hands, a group walk in the rain wearing proper gear, and the return back home to warmth and dryness. Gratitude for shelter is steeped in gezelligheid. Complaining about the weather is not.

My Dutch-Canadian dictionary’s attempt to translate gezellig comes up with “snugness.” Snugness is a very good winter word. We snug up our homes with light and heat, and feel snug in our beds with extra blankets on top. Before heading outdoors we snug up our scarves and boot laces and the drawstrings on winter jackets. We meet for lunch and subconsciously all lean in a little closer. We snuggle with children over a bedtime storybook, which somehow feels far more gezellig in winter than in summer. 

Dream of spring if you must, to get through these last weeks, but also see winter in its proper light. Note the softer hues of the landscape, the splendour of the moon (and it has been grand these past few months) and the serenity of life slowed down just a notch. Winter can be a beautiful thing.

It’s not too late to start embracing mindful koselighet. The Norwegians would suggest candles and slippers after skating with friends. The Dutch would propose that it all begins with coffee. Clearly there is a whole other way to do winter. 

Trudy has always been a winter person. Slippers, long underwear and hot apple cider are a few of her favourite things.