More Than Hygge: The hibernation we all need right now | Knowledge and joy

Photo of Jurien Huggins he Unsplash

Editor’s Note: As temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, we’re sharing this post, originally published in December 2020, all about the power of winterizing. We hope it gives you a fresh, rejuvenating perspective on the upcoming winter season.


It was the winter of 1991. My aquamarine bib snow pants were strapped to my shoulders and tied over my boots, my coat barely zipped up over my sweater. I was Ralphie’s brother from A Christmas story. The snow was piled higher than my head and in the backyard I kept getting stuck trying to cross the boreal terrain. My nose was cold and I was too warm under my layered winter gear, but it was a joy to participate in this, Minnesota’s famous Halloween blizzard. Everyone has a story about it.

Ask any ’80s kid and they’ll talk about it like it was the greatest event they’ve ever attended. Ask anyone from previous generations and they’ll reminisce about having to shovel their way out of their homes and bury their cars, as if ten feet of snow is only a nuisance, not an enchanting event.

I long for the kind of childish coziness where the deeper the snow, the bigger the party, and the lower the temperatures, the louder the stories. But like Santa Claus and Rudolph, these glories merged with my youth. Now, when I see snow falling, I think about the condition of the roads. When the temperatures are below zero, my thoughts go straight to my drafty windows and how I will be able to keep my children from freezing.

Not this year.

This year I embrace the Scandinavian heritage my home country was founded on. When I see snow, I wonder how it makes the streets sparkle. And when the temperatures plummet, I intend to huddle under a blanket by the fire. I will not just endure the winter as I do year after year; I will use it as an excuse to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. This winter I must heal.

I will not just endure the winter as I do year after year; I will use it as an excuse to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. This winter I must heal.

You may have heard of the Danish word fun. It is not a word so much as a concept or way of being. Not quite translatable into English, it’s basically a coziness that evokes a feeling of contentment or well-being. Coziness is a large leather chair, a weighted blanket and a good book. It’s drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire and cuddling a pet or loved one. Hygge is a way of life as natural as cycling in Denmark, and it has only recently hit the US – and with great fanfare.

Hygge is a delicious idea. That’s enough get me through until spring. But I recently came across another concept that has a slightly stronger appeal to me: wintering.

British author Katherine May published a book last year called Hibernation: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, and it is a delightful read. According to May, hibernation is not just a time of year. Everyone has their own personal winters or seasons of hardship where we must nurture ourselves and our souls to come out better than we were entering them. Sometimes winters are summers. Other times, like this year, they begin in March and last for an unpredictable number of months. Winters like the ones May talks about are a time to welcome our hardships (they come to us regardless, but embracing the cold makes them hurt a little less) and give ourselves the time and space we need to to get to the other side.

“Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments in our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered,” says May. A metaphor and a way to embrace the season, hibernation is all we have to do right now. We as a collective whole need to step down and heal. There is a global hunger for it.

Winters like the ones May talks about are a time to welcome our hardships (they come to us regardless, but embracing the cold makes them hurt a little less) and give ourselves the time and space we need to to get to the other side.

Many of us are still trying to be as productive as possible (I am so guilty of this). But maybe instead of being productive, we need to focus on doing what we need to survive.

I slept until 8:45 this morning – later than I have slept in recent memory. I have two children; one is only three months old. When I was up at 5am with the younger one, my first reaction was to get up and grab my computer. To get something written. To produce. But after one feeding session, I dropped the baby off, crawled back into bed, and woke up hours later. I overwintered and I feel incredibly good about it.

IN WinteringMay talks about the magical transformation trees undergo in northern climates: “The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures in order to survive.”

Is it magic? None. It is nature and it is in you and it is in me.

It’s time to retreat, to follow our urge to go to bed a little earlier and wake up a little later.

It’s time to pamper yourself, not extensively, not unhealthy, but in a way that warms the heart and burns the soul.

Winter is a time to read the books and take the naps we haven’t had time for because we’ve taken care of everything that needs to be done. Because winter isn’t about doing, it’s about being – which being is up to you. And for me is being read a book in the morning quiet with a cup of coffee in hand and the whole day ahead of me.

Yes, get outside and snowshoe or ski if the snow appeals to you. But if the cold makes you pull back a little bit, embrace your desires and give in to the urge to cozy up and relax. Some proper hibernation with a bit of coziness woven in makes me excited for this winter, and just the thought of spring makes me nostalgic for crackling fires and woolen sweaters. Before the snow melts and the trees bloom, I need to drink that coffee with heavy whipping cream, make the hearty stews, and find my healing. I will withdraw. And when spring comes, when it’s warm enough to feel the sun on my skin, I will be open enough to receive all the renewal the season has prepared for me.

Winter is a time to read the books and take the naps we haven’t had time for because we’ve taken care of everything that needs to be done. Because winter isn’t about doing, it’s about being – which being is up to you.

I received a holiday card this year. “Kindness is like snow,” it says. “It beautifies everything it covers.” This quote by Kahlil Gibran—accompanied by a man in a crown holding a root while a goose and a fox have tea in the foreground—is the kind of specific beauty you can only find at this time of year. I intend to bask in it and let the cold, snow and darkness magnify the beauty around me.

Let’s hibernate together.

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