I don’t want Christmas to end!  Those were the tearful words from my youngest daughter one December 26, as she stood forlornly in front of the Christmas tree. Remnants of wrapping paper and ribbon littered the floor from the previous day’s gift-opening extravaganza. That morning, there were no packages left, no new holiday surprises to be discovered. The wonder and expectation had faded. She was six years old and reality hit hard.

I confess, I feel the same twinge of sadness every year after Christmas. I much prefer December 23. For me, it is the tipping point, the day of peak anticipation before weeks of preparation cascade into the frenzy of Christmas morning. Christmas Eve is set apart, holy and reverent. But December 23—Christmas Eve Eve—is the still photograph, the Pinterest money shot that captures all the wonder of the season: every ornament in place; cheerfully wrapped presents tucked beneath the tree; the soft flicker of candles and warm glow from the fireplace; the sweet aroma of fresh-baked goodies. This is the day I truly relax and let the majesty of the season wash over me.

By contrast, December 26, feels anti-climactic, a letdown even. No more concerts. We’ve watched all the Christmas movies and opened every door on the Advent calendar. The fanfare is over, and with the exception of New Year’s Eve, there’s not much on the horizon to celebrate—just weeks of cold, dark winter ahead.

The lead-up to Christmas enchants us. Throughout Advent, we are captivated by the hope of the Christ child, warmed by the assurance of the angels that God has provided us a way back to him: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

We are safe. We are restored. The baby’s birth fills us with contentment and a peace that transcends our human comprehension. All of the joyful preparation—the lights, the carols, the celebration—fill us with wonder and delight. So, what do we say to our six-year-old selves who long to hold onto the magic of Christmas? How do we cling to the glad tidings and joyful feelings once the decorations have been stored? And why even do we long to forestall the end of Christmas, to wrap ourselves in a protective layer of holiday spirit all year long?

My Norwegian kinsfolk would suggest the best way to savor Christmas begins with romjul (ROM-yool), a peaceful time between Christmas and New Year’s. The term is secular, derived from the old Norse and meaning “half holy.” It embodies a period of quiet celebration, a time to stop everything and simply enjoy the season’s slow moments. Families in Norway look forward to romjul as a time to be together, to rest, reflect, and re-set before the start of a new year. It is a tranquil week to play board games, sip hot drinks by the fire, strap on the skis, take long walks, visit with good friends, learn a new craft, or simply get lost in a good book. The days are short, but the company is sweet.

Romjul is the perfect time of year to nurture koselig (KOOSH-lee), another Norwegian concept that translates loosely into English as the quality or state of coziness, comfort and well-being, especially if it includes some aspect of nature. David Nikel is a British freelance journalist and writer who has lived in Norway since 2011. He describes koselig as “the Scandinavian antidote to everything,” and the best weapon against the long, dark days of winter.

Nikel writes that koselig can describe many things, like “a glass of wine by the fireplace, reading a book by candlelight, listening to the wind at a cabin in the woods during a snowstorm, a picnic in the park, a walk in a cobblestone street or an afternoon spent gossiping over coffee with a friend.”

A similar, perhaps more recognizable version of koselig is the Danish variation, hygge (HYOO-gah). A few years back, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries designated hygge the runner-up word of the year (the winner that year was post-truth, a decidedly less cozy option). Since then, hygge has enjoyed a certain degree of celebrity. Marketers love this term—great for selling flannel blankets, oversized sweaters, or ski lodge vacations in Aspen.

Yet, despite its prolific use to describe everything from bath salts to bedsheets, native English speakers often have a difficult time understanding the deeper meaning of hygge. More than just the latest commercial gimmick, hygge is a feeling or state of mind that invites gratitude, camaraderie, and simple pleasures.

Meik Wiking is a bit of an expert on hygge. He is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, a Copenhagen-based think tank that studies well-being, happiness, and ways to improve quality of life. Wiking credits hygge as one of the chief reasons Danes and their Nordic neighbors consistently rank among the happiest people in the world. In his bestselling book, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Wiking writes, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”[1]

If there were a hygge manifesto, Wiking would include these elements: atmosphere, presence, pleasure, equality, gratitude, harmony, comfort, truce, togetherness, and shelter. When we’re caught up in a hygge moment, these ingredients align. We feel good about ourselves, our surroundings, and others who are close to us. We are present in the simplicity of the multi-sensory moment. Cell phones, social media, and life’s worries lose the power to distract. All is calm, all is bright.

Christmas, when we draw close to family and friends, is the most hyggelig time of year. “Time spent with others creates an atmosphere that is warm, relaxed, friendly, down-to-earth, close, comfortable, snug, and welcoming,” says Wiking. “In many ways it is like a good hug but without the physical contact. It is in this situation that you can be completely relaxed and yourself.”[2]

Of course, Scandinavians don’t have a corner on the hygge market. Other cultures have traditions and customs, particularly during the holiday season, that evoke the same feelings of warmth, connectedness, and comfort. Whatever it’s called, it is entirely possible to preserve that holiday hygge, to carry it forward into January and the months beyond.

I’m not talking about the folks who leave the Christmas tree standing well past the new year. Or the house on the block with the Christmas lights still twinkling in August. It’s true, we can stream our favorite holiday movies and Christmas albums any time of year now, no need to wait for December.

But, we miss something important if our goal is reduced to merely preserving the trappings of Christmas. That’s akin to an odd twist on the Narnia conundrum—always winter, but never Christmas—only in reverse. More like, always Christmas, but never winter—stuck in a meaningless holiday instead of living out its promises.

I believe the longing in my daughter’s heart all those Christmases ago, and the yearning many of us share today, is the desire to extend the hope of Christmas, with all its delicious hygge, into our daily living, regardless the season. The truth is, even the strong gravitational pull of hygge is unsustainable apart from its source. There is no hygge without the Christ child.

Climb into the Nativity, and you will recognize hints of hygge. From the start, the players were grounded and present in the moment, even Joseph, who required a gentle nudge from the angel of the Lord. Mary and Joseph made their arduous journey to Bethlehem side by side in close relationship with the God of the universe. They welcomed the baby Jesus in the humblest of settings. Mary wrapped him in soft cloths to keep him warm and comfortable. His first bed was not a Babyletto deluxe crib but something a little more rustic—an animal’s feeding trough.

Almost immediately, the young family welcomed guests. First, common shepherds followed by a trio of esteemed wisemen. They brought well wishes, gifts, and there was celebration. In the busyness of the moment, Mary was not distracted. Her to-do list was simple: she pondered. As for atmosphere? What could be more magnificent than the glow of a bright star and the melodic sounds from a choir of heavenly angels?

From the very beginning, Jesus has provided us with the best example of hygge. He continues to be our model more than 2,000 years hence. “The God of the universe showed us the best method of reaching people with His message,” writes Christian author, speaker and mentor Sally Clarkson. “He came to earth as a common man and lived, ate, and developed relationships within a small community of people. Loving and serving them in the normal moments of life.”[3]

We, too, have the opportunity to use the normal and mundane moments to spread some hygge within our spheres of influence. For some, those spheres are deep and wide. For others, they are small and intimate but no less worthy.

In her book, Holy Hygge: Creating a Place for People to Gather and the Gospel to Grow, author Jamie Erickson explores the meaning of hygge more fully through a Christian lens. She writes, “Hygge is simple but sophisticated, warm and inviting, homemade and rustic. Hygge is the opposite of hustle. It eschews over-abundance. It savors. It takes things slow and envelopes you in sanctuary. In a world largely defined by rush, hygge welcomes rest. It invites you to enjoy the simple pleasures of slow living, savored moments, and fostered friendships.”[4]

According to Erickson, the markers of hygge are hospitality, well-being, a welcoming atmosphere, comfort, contentment, rest, and thriving relationships. One might also recognize these as the markers of a Christ-centered life. If we are to sustain the anticipation of Advent, the glory of Christmas day, and the hygge of the season, we would do well to cultivate these qualities. Let’s zoom in.

Hospitality — The practice of hospitality creates space for the gospel to penetrate. It need not be elaborate—no fine china and crystal required. But it is commanded of Jesus followers: Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Well-being — To be effective disciples, able to care for the needs of others, we are called to take good care of our own selves: Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12: 1-2)

Atmosphere — Sally Clarkson writes that “the homes we make, in all their refuge and comfort, are simply stand-ins for the true home we were made to desire.”[5] By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. (Proverbs 24:3-4)

Comfort — As Christ comforts us, so too we are called to comfort others. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Contentment —There is satisfaction and pleasure to be discovered in the mundane moments of living. Contentment is found through gratitude. Happiness comes, not from having all that we want, but in wanting all that we have. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11b)

Rest — Like hospitality, rest is not a suggestion; it is a command. The Lord rested, and so should we. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Which brings us to relationship, an important aspect of hygge and an essential characteristic of the human experience. We are hard-wired for relationship. We all have a desire to know and be known, to belong, to find community and acceptance—among others and with God. In fact, it is in relationships that we encounter God. And once again, Jesus is our model.

He was first and foremost in relationship with God the Father. Next, he aligned himself with a trusted few disciples—Peter, James and John—friends who would accompany him in his darkest hour at a place called Gethsemane. Nine more disciples and a handful of partners would join Jesus throughout his ministry. They offered each other encouragement, shared the joys and demands of discipleship, and journeyed together in committed fellowship. They were vulnerable with each other, held each other accountable, and shared a common mission. I suspect those relationships were infused with a substantial amount of hygge.

Scripture is also a model; it teaches us how to order our relationships. We are told repeatedly to love one another. In fact, there are dozens of “one another” passages that give us a roadmap for successful relationships, among them: live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16), care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), bear with one another (Colossians 3:13), be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), and pray for one another (James 5:16).

Erickson writes that “hygge opens our eyes to the value of the mundane within our relationships. It observes and celebrates the everyday and turns the tedious into traditions. Because it embraces repetition and elevates routines, hyggelig living orders our affections. It echoes the cry of Matthew 6:21, which reads, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ It helps us learn to love the daily rituals we’ve created with the people we spend the most time with and helps us to see that the whole of our lives is greater than the sum total of all the individual moments.”[6]

We long to hold onto Christmas because we yearn for comfort and connection. We hunger for contentment and belonging. We are too often weary, and we seek an inviting atmosphere that affords us rest and welcomes us into a space where we are known.

Christmas does not end at midnight on December 26, or even when the last ornament is packed. Hygge affords us the possibility of Christmas moments throughout the year. Even on the bleak winter days of January, there is pleasure in a simple cup of tea shared with a friend. Snowy strolls through Christmas markets turn into springtime walks amongst the cherry blossoms. Festive Christmas lights change to brilliant fireworks. A quiet winter evening at the family cabin, warmed by a roaring fire, becomes a rowdy summer cookout around a blazing campfire with best friends.

And always at the center, the promise of the Christ child, who fills our lives with never ending hygge, everlasting love, and perfect peace.  We don’t have to say farewell to Christmas. We only need to find our Christmas moments in every day.

[1] Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (New York, NY: HarperCollins/William Morrow, 2017), vi.

[2] Ibid, 39.

[3] Sally & Sarah Clarkson, The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2016), 73.

[4] Jamie Erickson, Holy Hygge: Creating a Place for People to Gather and the Gospel to Grow (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2022), 15.

[5] Clarkson, The Lifegiving Home, 245.

[6] Erickson, Holy Hygge, 79.

Erin Rodewald is a published writer, editor and communications strategist based in Northern Virginia. Her topics include civil society, community engagement, international religious freedom, and foreign policy. She is the author of the Writing for the Public Square blog. Erin holds a Masters of Public Policy from Pepperdine University. You can follower her on Twitter at @EDRodewald.

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