It is 8am on Wednesday morning, three days before the winter solstice. Even at this time of year, I have missed the sunrise; after waking and sleeping and waking and sleeping several times, trying to get a few more minutes, I managed to sleep through the first light breaking over the horizon. My kids have had a long month. Constant changes in time zone, from Eastern to Central to Eastern to Central, combined with more time spent in a car than they’ve spent on the trail, means even my toddler, my early riser, doesn’t wake up until the light is bright and stable through the window.
We are at a cabin in western Virginia. In my heart-mountains, as I call them; the Blue Ridge Mountains, where even pictures of them are a breath of fresh air. We came here to meet a dear friend and her kids for some much needed nature-therapy. She has experienced tragic loss, and we are reeling from bad news, and a getaway is what all of us need. I have heard before, that everyone needs that friend who will call you up and say “Come on, we’re going on an adventure.” She is that friend. And I might be that friend to her. There have been tears, too much wine, and a couple of late nights in our too-short trip, and we will go our separate ways again later in the day.
For now though, the kids are entertaining themselves, and I have a cup of coffee in hand, and I tell my friend, I am going to go sit outside for a few minutes and breathe in the morning. She smiles, “Do it. It’s beautiful out.”
The morning sun is bright. Too bright, really, after what has felt like months of nothing but heavy clouds and rain. Our cabin is right on a lake, and the still-low sunlight reflects off the water, blinding me. I shift, and sit so I am facing south, where I can still see the skeleton trees across the bright blue water. It is cold, but my coffee warms my hands and my fleece is cozy.
This is my happy place.
Despite my husband’s Scandinavian ancestry, I had never heard the word “hygge” until a month or so ago, when a friend commented on a social media post I made about my seasonal affective disorder. “Maybe you need more hygge,” she said. I googled it, and wondered.
The connection to the seasons is what has drawn me more and more into Paganism over the last few years, and this time of year in particular. Even if you don’t practice, or are atheist, or are of an Abrahamic faith, it’s hard to escape Pagan influence this time of year. Evergreens inside our homes. Candles in our windows. So many symbols of anticipating the return of the sun–but also so many ways of rejoicing in the dark. We decorate our homes and cities with lights inside and out, creating beauty that is reliant on darkness. So much connection to nature, to the turning of the wheel of the year.
Snuggling under the blankets next to a crackling fire, having Lord of the Rings marathons with my five year old, baking breads and sweets–these are indoor activities that bring me joy. But it is in the stillness of the outdoors that I find the most peace, even in these cold, dark months.
My understanding of hygge, after a month of so of trying to understand it, trying to reconcile its coziness with its stillness, trying to find the similarities and differences in drawing inward with celebrating the darkness has led me to a conclusion that I have always known. Which is:
Sitting outside by a lake, half blinded by the morning sun, shivering slightly while I drink my coffee, is where I find peace.
Because stillness is what this time of year is all about, at least from the earth’s viewpoint. It is the time of dying.
Today, the solstice, marks the rebirth of the sun in the northern hemisphere, but it is weeks before we will start to see the rebirth of the earth. Whether we are celebrating this stillness by staying indoors, or are celebrating it by embracing the cold, dead of the outdoors, there is peace to be found just by sitting outside and letting yourself blend in to the quiet of that time when all is in fact calm, if not yet bright.