The Danish notion of “hygge” (pronounced hyoo-gah) promotes cuddling up and cozying down with one’s family, friends and community to foster feelings of warmth and happiness despite dreary weather.

At Northwestern, winter quarter tends to drag. The relentless wind, cold and frequent snow only add to the mental and emotional struggles so pervasive on campus. As bad as winter in Chicago gets, the long nights and low temps are nothing compared to Scandinavian winters, where daylight hours are short, or even nonexistent, depending on the location. 

Yet, Scandinavians are consistently ranked the happiest people in the world. How can this be? Aside from the obvious reasons (stable political systems, high standards of living, sizable welfare benefits, cohesive and trusting society - you get the gist), Scandinavians have learned to welcome winter weather by engaging in hygge.

Eager to partake in hygge myself, I sat down at Newport Coffee with Hailey Donato, a fellow Spoonie, and Laura Brown, who works in marketing and business outreach for Downtown Evanston. Brown explained that hygge came to Evanston five years ago in the form of Hygge Fest. What started off as a weeklong event involving several Evanston eateries soon became a monthlong celebration of winter, uniting shops and restaurants to draw locals out of their homes and into the winter spirit.

“We started off doing [Hygge Fest] for a week, but realized we could include more businesses or artists in Evanston who would want to host workshops,” Brown said.

Such workshops run the gamut from charcuterie-board crafting to embroidery and painting. Other events include winter bird watching, meditation, yoga and acupuncture. Not only do these classes foster connection and a sense of togetherness, they also promote mindful behavior and self-care, critical priorities to survive these winter months.

Cynicists may call Hygge Fest a commercial ploy to increase business profits in the slow month of February, but Brown emphasized its true goals: bringing people together to learn new crafts, warm up over coffee or a hearty meal and connect with fellow Evanstonians.

To get a true Scandinavian’s perspective on Hygge Fest, I spoke with Newport Coffee’s co-founder Lotta Bengtsson. To her, hygge means “spending time with friends in a warm, nice environment with a fika and bulle.”

Though fika translates directly to coffee, in Sweden, it is a treasured tradition involving a midday break to savor coffee and a snack with a companion. A favorite treat is the Swedish cinnamon roll, or kanelbulle, which twists cardamom-flavored dough with cinnamon filling into a sticky, buttery knot packed with warming flavors and topped with a sprinkling of crunchy pearl sugar.

Lucy Hederick

“Kanelbulle is one of the most traditional pastries for an afternoon fika in Sweden,” Bengtsson explained.

Thus, in honor of Hygge Fest, Newport is offering a “fika och bulle” or “coffee and kanelbulle” to warm coffee lovers from the inside out and bring a slice of Sweden to Evanston.

Hailey and I sat down over fika och bulle to chat about our favorite classes, excitement for the weekend and summer plans. Newport's robust pour over balanced the sweet and chewy kanelbulle perfectly; the cardamom added a depth of flavor that a classic American cinnamon roll lacks.

Since moving out of our shared, on-campus housing last year, Hailey and I have seen each other infrequently. Taking time from our busy schedules to sit together and catch up over a velvety, rich brew and flavorful, buttery kanelbulle brought a moment of relaxation and warmth to a busy, cold day for us both.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely or chilled to the bone in February, do like the Danish and head into Downtown Evanston for some hygge– your brain and body will thank you.

(Photos courtesy of Two Gents Digital)