How To Enjoy Winters Like The Scandinavians Do

Making winter enjoyable goes beyond hygge.
You can have a Scandinavian-style winter even if your area doesn't have this kind of architecture.
You can have a Scandinavian-style winter even if your area doesn't have this kind of architecture.

For many Canadians, winter is something to be endured more than enjoyed. But given that we live in a country with long winters, and that being outdoors is generally the only safe way we can socialize during the pandemic, maybe that’s something we should consider re-thinking.

Hanging out outside is standard in many northern European countries, where cold temperatures, lots of snow and long winter nights are common. What can we learn from Scandinavians about how to start enjoying the winter?

It’s all about the attitude

There’s a Scandinavian concept called friluftsliv, which translates to “open-air living.” The idea, linked to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, associates fresh air and time spent outside with physical and emotional well-being.

Victoria Mallard grew up in Newfoundland and has lived in Copenhagen for the last five years. There’s a noticeable difference in attitudes towards winter weather in Denmark than in Canada, she said.

“Newfoundlanders really like to complain,” Mallard told HuffPost Canada. “I grew up with the attitude: ‘You don’t want to be outside, it’s too cold.’” But in Copenhagen, the winter is just something you have to adjust to.

Psychologist Kari Leibowitz travelled to the world’s northernmost university in Tromso, Norway to look at how people coped in an area that has no sunlight at all for two full months of winter. Despite that intense darkness, the area has low levels of seasonal depression, Leibowitz found.

Tromso, Norway, where seasonal depression rates are low even though they don't get sun at all for two full months.
Tromso, Norway, where seasonal depression rates are low even though they don't get sun at all for two full months.

She wrote in the New York Times that one of the reasons the people of Tromso don’t get demoralized by cold weather and lack of sunlight is that they have a positive wintertime mindset.

“People there see the winter as a special time of year full of opportunities for enjoyment and fulfillment, rather than a limiting time of year to dread,” Leibowitz wrote. “In fact, my research found that this positive wintertime mindset was associated with well-being, including greater life satisfaction and more positive emotions.”

Some of the outdoor activities we’re already doing are ones we probably think of as fun, she said, like ice skating or sitting by a bonfire. We could try to apply that kind of thinking to the season more generally.

There’s no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing

It’s true that a typical Copenhagen winter day isn’t much colder than about -1, which is significantly warmer than winters in Ottawa or Edmonton. But even on chilly days, Danish people are always outside, walking or biking or sitting with friends.

“The Scandinavian approach is that you just need to be prepared,” Mallard said. “There’s a saying in Danish that basically means, there’s no bad weather. There’s only inappropriate clothing.”

Check out Christmas gifts meant to make the outdoors more enjoyable. Story continues after slideshow.

Gifts That Will Help Us Enjoy The Winter Outdoors

In sub-par clothes, of course you’ll be miserable. But if you’re all bundled up in a solid waterproof coat, warm boots, and a hat, mitts and scarf made for a Canadian climate? Spending time outside should be OK.

One of Mallard’s big Copenhagen purchases include a waterproof rain jacket. She also says many people she knows wear a lot of wool. “People are really looking to invest in wool or merino or things like that, because they know that it will last and and it actually works.”

Find the outdoor activities that make you happy

Kyumin Hanh is another Canadian who relocated to Scandinavia. He’s now based in Copenhagen, but lived for a while in Åre, an area in the north of Sweden known for its great skiing mountains. “Basically, I could leave my house on my snowboard down to the first lift,” he told HuffPost. He would often spend the whole day outside, meeting up with friends to ski or snowboard on the mountain and then sitting outside by a fire to eat or hang out.

Most of us don’t live in areas that are conducive to regular mountain hangs, unfortunately. But if winter sports bring you joy, try to find a way to make them happen.

Ice skating or other outdoor activities can make winter a lot more bearable.
Ice skating or other outdoor activities can make winter a lot more bearable.

Now that he lives in Cogenhagen, Hanh isn’t able to leave his house on a snowboard anymore. But he still does a ton of outdoor activities, like winter fishing and biking.

“In Denmark, the best season for coastal sea trout fishing is also in the winter months,” he said. He and the group of friends he fishes with do a lot to prepare for the weather.

“We gear up for wading into the cold waters and fly fishing for these elusive sea trout,” he said. “We prepare pretty well with plenty of wool base layers, neoprene or waterproof waders and waterproof jackets. A small fire is typically close by, in hopes of grilling these fish, and also plenty of thermoses filled with coffee or tea.”

Come up with your own traditions

Winter in Denmark comes with a lot of fun indoor traditions, Mallard said, to give people a sense of joy when there’s so little sunlight. Christmas is extended to almost a whole month, where Danes have a variety “Christmas lunches” that often turn into all-night parties.

“You would probably have one Christmas lunch with your work,” she said. “You’d probably have one with a friend group, another with, say, your old university friends, and one with your girlfriends. There could be one with couples.”

Maybe this is the winter you come up with a <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/new-tradition-holiday-habit_ca_5e00d827e4b0843d35ff45bc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new holiday tradition</a>.
Maybe this is the winter you come up with a new holiday tradition.

The big Christmas meal is on the night of Christmas Eve, but celebrations don’t end there. Dec. 25th is første juledag, first Christmas Day, and the 26th is anden juledag, second Christmas Day, she explained. On a non-pandemic year, you’d typically spend time with different sides of your family on each Christmas day.

Christmas is a big wintertime celebration, even for non-Christians, she explained. A friend of hers who’s a chef has worked for the last few years at a community centre in the north of the city, where there’s a big immigrant population. They cook a huge Christmas meal that’s attended by a ton of the area residents, even though a lot of them are Muslim.

“They get a couple hundred people,” Mallard said. “It could be people who have immigrated by themselves, and their family hasn’t come yet. It’s really become just about togetherness.”

Mallard’s first few Christmases in Copenhagen, before she had a big circle of friends in the city, never felt lonely, she said. “People really have this idea of: You can’t be alone, everyone is welcome,” she said. “You’ll always have an invitation.”

Make your home work for you

Because of how much time is spent outside, Swedish homes almost always have built-in saunas, Hahn said. When he lived in Åre, he would have a quick sauna on cold mornings before he left the house.

The home sauna isn’t a part of typical Canadian home architecture yet, but people with enough space and resources can replicate the sauna environment by insulating their bathroom and adding a few heaters.

Having plants around is one way to make your space feel more comfortable.
Having plants around is one way to make your space feel more comfortable.

If you’re not the DIY type, figure out what you need to be comfortable at home. If your skin dries out in the winter, maybe you can invest in a good moisturizer and a humidifier or two. If you’re miserable when you’re cold, maybe adding a long, hot shower to your routine could help. Figure out what you need to be comfortable in your space, and try to make that happen.

Turn cosiness into a lifestyle

You’ve probably heard of hygge, the Danish concept of contentment that comes from cosiness. For Danes, being cosy is a lifestyle.

“The whole idea is that it’s OK to be home and just curl up with a blanket and some tea and light some candles,” Mallard said. “And that you don’t have to put so much effort into pushing yourself, you shouldn’t feel guilty for stepping back a little in the winter and having a little bit more downtime.”

Cosiness is key.
Cosiness is key.

Hygge has been having a moment in North America for a while now, with a ton of books, homeware and perfectly curated Instagram feeds bearing its name. But to Mallard, the commercialization of hygge defeats its comfy, cosy purpose.

Hygge “being something that you can package like that essentially goes against the idea,” she said. When you’re with your friends, having dinner at home and just enjoying some wine or something like that, hygge. Sleeping in on a rainy day, and then sitting in bed with your coffee for an extra hour, that’s also hygge. In Danish, you’d say to your friends, ‘Have a cosy time.’ It’s become an aesthetic and become commercialized, when it’s actually a sense of being.”

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