The Long Read: This years most overhyped trend is a wholesome Danish concept of cosiness, used to sell everything from fluffy socks to vegan shepherds pie. But the version were buying is a British invention and the real thing is less cuddly than it seems
Inescapably and suddenly, Britain has been invaded by hygge. The Danish word, previously unknown to all but the most hardcore Scandophiles, is now the subject of an avalanche of books, hundreds of Identikit newspaper features, and endless department-store winter displays. Every story on the subject explains that the word defies literal translation, before offering cosiness as a workable approximation its not exactly that, but rather, a feeling of calm togetherness and the enjoyment of simple pleasures, perhaps illuminated by the gentle flicker of candlelight.
Not the least of the paradoxes of this craze, which you might also call a wildly overhyped trend, is that simply pronouncing it is almost impossible for British tongues. The first mention of hygge in any text where it sits so invitingly on the page, with its row of curvaceous descenders usually comes with a phonetic guide. This is in order to prevent readers from committing the faux-pas of uttering higgy or huggy or, worse, hig. Hue-gah, hoo-gah, heurgh and hhyooguh are among the approximations offered in the (at least) nine books on hygge published this autumn. (The Sun, helpfully, suggests it should rhyme with cougar.)
The titles of these books, carefully calibrated for search-engine optimisation, are: Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness; The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well; Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way; The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge; Hygge: The Complete Guide to Embracing the Danish Concept of Cosy and Simple Living; The Art of Hygge: How to Bring Danish Cosiness Into Your Life; How to Hygge: the Secrets of Nordic Living; The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well; Keep Calm and Hygge: A Guide to the Danish Art of Simple and Cosy Living.
It is the most striking publishing trend I can remember, in terms of the sheer number of titles published at the same time, Caroline Sanderson, who writes about non-fiction for the Bookseller magazine, told me. And so, inevitably, there is also a 10th book a parody. Its publication was announced only 29 days after the first of the straight books came out. Say Ja to Hygge: How to Find Your Special Cosy Place suggests that the crucial word be pronounced huhhpg-ghuhrr. This is not the only occasion when the parody is hard to distinguish from the volumes it is apparently spoofing.
Just as chic is the thing that everyone knows about the French, the word hygge must now be affixed, almost by law, to any media story about Denmark or, indeed, anything remotely Scandinavian, whether the subject is clothes, furniture, cookery, travel, or working hours. The headlines are mostly absurd. Get Hygge With It! Hungry For Hygge! Ten Reasons to Hygge It Will Make You Happier, Fitter and Slimmer! Give Your Home a Hygge! There is even a New Statesman article titled The Hygge of Oasis: Why I Find This Band Strangely Comforting.
According to this now vast popular literature, the creation of an atmosphere of hygge is aided by glgg (mulled wine), meatballs and cardamom buns. Certain activities and entertainments, often involving candles, woollens, or nature, are also said to promote feelings of hygge. One of the less sophisticated books suggests projects for making winter bunting and a mug cosy, the latter to be fashioned from buttons, sequins and an old sock. Its advice to take up the hyggelig activity of cycling is accompanied by a motivational quote from that byword of existential contentment, Sylvia Plath.
I have seen hygge used to sell cashmere cardigans, wine, wallpaper, vegan shepherds pie, sewing patterns, a skincare range, teeny-tiny festive harnesses for dachshunds, yoga retreats and a holiday in a shepherds hut in Kent. The Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton has even opened a Bar Hygge craft beer and open sandwiches a speciality. Its hard to pinpoint a definition for the Danish word hygge, proclaims the website. It sits somewhere between warmth and comfort, cosiness and friendship, making the most of every moment, away from worries. We wanted to borrow some of that and bring it to Northampton.
Hygge has been listed as a word of the year by both the Collins and Oxford dictionaries alongside Brexit and Trumpism in the lexicographers annual public-relations exercise. Tremblings of a hygge backlash, seen in skits such as a Daily Mash piece titled Hygge Is Byllshytte, serve only to emphasise its ubiquity. The Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph ran an article suggesting that readers adopt a bracingly British version of the trend brygge.
One morning in October, I walked around John Lewiss London flagship store with Philippa Prinsloo, its head of design: we ran our hands over fake-fur throws and hot-water bottles, felt the nub of Scottish woollen blankets, admired hyggelig tableware that favoured sharing and simplicity. The theme of the homeware displays was, she said, winter warmth. Making sure things are ready to cosy down. An early adopter, the store first promoted hygge as a theme last autumn (we should have done it again this year, said Prinsloo). Will hygge last, I asked her? Will it be more than a flash in the plan? Oh yes, definitely. People really want it and need it at the moment.
Hygge is catnip to social media: on Instagram there are almost 1.5m #hygge posts of falling leaves, bowls of pumpkin soup and babies adorably wrapped in blankets. On Pinterest, there has been a year-on-year rise of 285% in hygge-themed pinning. Interest is especially strong in Britain, according to a spokeswoman for the site, where it skyrocketed in September this year.