Can you picture it?
Pulling out your favorite soup recipes and a pile of cozy sweaters.
Lighting candles around the house and inviting friends over for sledding and board games.
Snowshoeing through a forest muffled with snow, towards a bright cabin full of your favorite people
When we put it like that, six months of dark and cold seems almost …. pleasant.
If you’ve never heard of hygge before, it’s the Danish concept of warm coziness during the winter months. It’s “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people” (according to Denmark’s official tourism website.) Those Danes actually enjoy winter! They embrace it and look forward to it! Whaaaaatttt?!!
And as a third-generation Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent, I know a thing (or 29) about winter. I know how to cozy down and warm up.
So if you, too, are looking for a more social, more enjoyable winter – this post is for you. Bookmark it for the coming months when the excitement of the holidays has worn off and now it’s just cold and dark and dreary. Pour yourself something warm, settle in, and have a read.
1. Make your space as cozy + comfy as humanly possible
Warm-toned, lower wattage light bulbs. Tons and tons of candles. Throw pillows and sofa blankets in sumptuous, cuddly textures. Rugs over your bare floors. Thick drapes to keep out the cold and the dark. Mirrors to reflect all those glowing, flickering candles and warm-tones lamps.
I know it sounds crazy but I actually have different pillow shams and throw blankets for winter vs. summer. White cotton pillows don’t feel nice in the depths of winter!
2. Host a sledding party
Remember when you’d spend an entire Saturday with your friends, trundling up and down hills in your snowsuit? And that zip-zop sound your snow pants would make as you trudged up the hill?
Well, sledding is still awesome and it’s still free. Gather up your favorite friends for a night of sledding. You can make it an event by starting the evening with a big pot of soup and some loaves of crusty bread and then head to your nearest hill and devote an hour or two to racing each other down the hill. If you’re really brave/foolish you could try sledding on an inflatable mattress. Or a tray filched from a cafeteria.
Or just cut two holes in a plastic shopping bag, stick your legs through and see how fast you go! After you’re tired of climbing back up the hill, head inside for hot drinks and a few rounds of Pictionary. Lovely!
3. DIY spa day
Have a night in with a bunch of homemade moisturizing beauty treatments! Winter can dry out your skin and hair something awful. And constant hat-wearing somehow manages to give me both oily roots and straw-like ends. Awesome.
4. Write actual letters
Is it awesome to stay in touch with old high school friends via Facebook? Yes. Is it the same as getting a handwritten letter on hilarious Japanese stationery? No.
If you’re looking for a good inside, cold-weather activity it’s hard to beat letter writing. Start with your grandparents or other people who aren’t necessarily all over the internet. What about your old friends from band camp? Or your freshman year roommate? If you’re looking to brush up on that language you studied for years, sign up for a foreign language pen pal or just sign up for a regular pen pal!
If letters aren’t really your thing, buy a big pack of postcards and make it your goal to write all of them before spring. Or dig through your old photos and when you find a duplicate, pop a stamp and address on the back, write a note and send it off like a postcard to the person in the photo.
5. Make a winter bonfire
When you think about it, it makes a lot more sense to have a bonfire on a crisp winter night than during the sticky, sweaty summer – and a bonfire is a great way to dispose of your Christmas tree!
Have a few friends bring over their dried up holiday wreaths, trees and trimmings and get your fire on. Here’s a great how-to on proper fire-building technique.
If you’re feeling particularly festive, roast marshmallows or hot dogs. You can even wrap potatoes in tin foil and tuck them in the coals or do the same with bananas sliced in half lengthwise and stuffed with pieces of chocolate. Of course, be sure to check out your city’s fire policies before you bonfire it up!
6. Visit someone who’s housebound
Nothing will cheer you up faster than a reality check. If you’re feeling stuck this winter, take a few hours to visit someone who is really, truly housebound. Maybe it’s your grandma who’s laid up with a bad hip, your friend with a broken leg or a former teacher whose arthritis is getting the best of her.
Call ahead and ask your friend what time works for them (just because someone’s stuck inside, doesn’t mean they love unexpected visitors). Bring over a snack or meal to share and maybe a DVD. Or just go old school and make conversation!
7. Embrace seasonal produce
Cooking with seasonal produce is healthier, cheaper and better for the environment.
Also: winter strawberries are mealy and gross. Why pay $3 for one withered red pepper when you can make spicy sweet potato soup or dip tiny delicious kumquats in dark chocolate?
Here’s what’s in season during the winter and some awesome ways to cook ’em!
Persimmon pudding // Shredded brussels sprouts // Broiled grapefruit // Butternut squash soup with a kick // Spinach pomegranate salad // Creamy Roasted Parsnip Soup // Kumquat marmalade // Jicama appetizers
8. Try a new hot drink
Put it in a travel mug and take a walk through your neighborhood! There’s something wonderfully smug about being outside when it’s cold and dark, but feeling all snuggly and warm. Look at you! Beating the elements! Aren’t you the clever one?!
One of my favorite things to do after dinner is to make myself a decadent hot drink, pour it into a travel mug, bundle up and then take a walk around my darkened neighborhood. I see who already put up their holiday lights, say hello to neighbors walking dogs, and check out decorating schemes in living rooms with uncurtained windows. Seeing so many families tucked into their sweet, warm houses is such a lovely feeling.
9. Plan a regular, on-going winter group activity
One of the things that bums people out every winter is the lack of connection. Social calendars empty out and, come January, we’re all sitting on our sofas, alone, with Netflix.
Make socializing and connection a priority; take initiative! Invite friends over for weekly viewings of a specific TV show. Host a board game night or a weekly potluck. Start a book club or a ‘stitch and bitch’ in which your friends bring their crafts or projects and you all sit around crafting, gossiping, and nibbling delicious things.
10. Host brunch
Lady get-togethers needn’t be limited to summer patios and fruity drinks. Why not invite your girls over for a wintery Sunday brunch? You can listen to cozy, jazzy music (I like the ‘French Cafe’ Pandora station) and tuck into to warm, decadent dishes that wouldn’t feel appropriate in July. Besides! This is an excellent opportunity to pull out your ‘good’ dishes and that sweet tablecloth from your grandma!
11. Choose happy books/music/movies
Now, I love few things more than a good, properly depressing piece of literature. (What’s up, everything Joyce Carol Oates has ever written?) But perhaps December is not the time to indulge in that stuff. Instead, let’s make space for music, movies and books that make us sigh with joy and laugh out loud. If you don’t have any go-to feel-goods, here are a few to get you started.
Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie books, Bossypants, Bridget Jones, anything by Bill Bryson or David Sedaris
12. Get more sun
One of the leading causes of seasonal depression is lack of vitamin D – the vitamin you get from being exposed to the sun. Of course, it’s hard to see much of the sun if you’re inside working the entire time it’s light out. Here are a few ways to get more sunshine into your life.
* Take advantage of your lunch break
If it’s sunny, bundle the eff up and get outside on your lunch break. Try out a new restaurant that’s several blocks away, run some errands (on foot) in your neighborhood, or just put on a podcast and walk. You’ll get some exercise and some vitamin D!
* Load up on sun during the weekend
If you are chained to your desk all week, make sure you get outside and into the sun on the weekends – and not just for two minutes as you walk through the Target parking lot. Plan some fun outdoor activities (snowshoeing! skiing! snow fort building!) and make ’em happen. Or you can just put a hot, tasty beverage in a travel mug and explore a new neighborhood.
* Work next to a window
Now, you can’t actually absorb vitamin D through glass, but you’ll still feel a lot better about life if you’re sitting in the sun rather than toiling away in a dark corner. If it’s really too cold to be outside or you have a huge computer-based project to finish, pull your desk or chair into the light.
* Splash out on a Sun Box
If you have really severe seasonal depression, you might want to consider getting a lightbox. Light boxes are essentially huge lamps that use light, filters and angle to replicate the sun. They’re not cheap but they’re allegedly quite effective!
13. Show people you love them
February is the month of love, right? And though romantic relationships are really lovely, let us not forget all the other people that we love. Because just like any long-term relationship, friendships require maintenance. You wouldn’t expect a lover to go years without any expression of your affection, why would you expect that from a friend? It’s important to let the people in your life know that they matter!
If you’re one of those people who require three beers before you can manage an “I love yoouuuu, maaannnn!” here are a few ideas:
* Send them a link to a music video you guys used to love
* Post a picture of someone or something gorgeous on facebook and tag it as a photo of them.
* Check in on them when you know that they’re going through a tough time
Not just during the tough time, but in the weeks following the tough time. When something bad happens to us, we’re often overwhelmed by good wishes and sympathy in the days following a death/breakup/job loss. But those things are still hard in the following months and we all need love then, too.
* Go on new adventures. If your friend is one of those people who needs a push to do things that they love, take charge and schedule that salsa class or day trip to Chicago that you know they’ve been wanting to take.
* Announce to them that they’re your favorite thus-and-such
My mom did this all the time. She used to tell me that I was her favorite blond daughter. (I’m also the only blond daughter).
* Make a big fuss over their birthday/graduation/promotion
I have a theory that when people say they don’t want a fuss made, they’re lying just a little bit. Maybe they don’t want a huge party with lots of people singing to them in a restaurant, but I bet they’d like it if you called them and cheered and then took them out for dinner.
* Help them move
Ugh. I know. But friends help friends pack and throw out unflattering onesies.
* Send them a link to the Golden Girls theme song
I did this earlier this year and it made me all tearful.
*Schedule a video call
Texting is easy, email is great and calling is good. But if you live far apart, it’s so, so lovely to see your friend’s face and get a tour of their kitchen and watch their new puppy try to sit. I also find that video skyping really removes a lot of the ‘I haven’t seen you in ages’ weirdness that can occur when years pass without in-person hangouts.
* Write a blog post about all the ways in which they are awesome
Also, you can pawn this off as a birthday gift.
* Take them to the airport or pick them up
I’m not just mentioning this because I need airport pick ups/drop offs, like, five times a year!
* Equalize the calling
We all get busy and find our days filled with meetings and errands and obligations. It’s easy to lose track of friends, forget to call them or sit sulkily on our couches wondering why the phone isn’t ringing. For the love of Pete, call your friends. Who cares who’s doing the calling?! You want to hang out. So do it!
* Share your guilty pleasures
Isn’t it fantastic when you confess to someone that you love something and they’re all “I knoooow! Me, toooo! And don’t you quietly love looking through Kylie Kardashian’s Instagram account?” When you’ve got a friend who loves the same weird stuff you do, do it together! And then you’ll have someone to back you up when all your other friends try to mock you for loving Jersey Shore.
* Cultivate the inside joke
I love being at a crowded party or bar and hearing something that makes me lock eyes with my friends and exchange those glances that can only mean “Did you hear that? We are totally going to talk about that later!” I love being able to communicate with my besties in our own verbal shorthand. I love that we can reduce each other into a heap of giggles by referencing a heavy metal band that featured a didgeridoo.
In Sweden (land of 4:00 pm sunsets and six-month winters) there is a saying: there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. That, my friends, is kind of true. Of course you hate winter if you’re shoveling your sidewalk in a cute jacket and high heeled dress boots! Obviously, January is abysmal if you’re walking to work in ballet flats. Just about everything in life is more fun when you’re properly prepared. Let this be the year that you actually invest in proper winter clothing. Warm winter gear need not be bulky and unflattering.
Some necessities to add to your winter wardrobe:
Silk long underwear
Sure, they’re a little bit spendy but they’ll last you years and probably pay for themselves in lowered heat bills. They’re insanely comfortable, thin and layer-able under just about everything. Get a full set – top and bottoms.
These are wool socks’ sexier cousin. They’re nearly as warm but much, much thinner.
Lined mittens and gloves
Yes, those sleek little leather driving gloves are cute. But they’re not doing much for you when you’re scraping off the windshield are they? Invest in a nice pair of mittens or gloves that are fleece lined, so you needn’t keep your hands jammed deep in your pockets all winter.
A variety of cute head and ear coverings
Mild winter = cute, cable-knit headbands and furry earmuffs.
Medium winter = cute, cable-knit hat or beret.
Harsh winter = fleece-lined stocking cap.
Proper winter boots
I’ll say it again. Those fake leather motorcycle boots from Target don’t count. You needn’t drop $200 on a pair of Sorels, but you need something with laces, lining, and grip on the soles.
15. Yes, try a spray tan
I think we are all aware that exposing your skin to real, actual sun and Vitamin D is what results in tanned skin. And – shockingly enough – you won’t actually get any Vitamin D by spraying your skin with tan-i-fying chemicals. But that doesn’t mean you might not enjoy looking less pale! Or giving yourself fake tan lines! Or making your coworkers ask “Did you really have the flu? You look oddly healthy and golden.”
When done incorrectly, self-tanners can turn you into an Oompa Loompa. Let’s be smarter than my girls on Jersey Shore. Try a spray tanner that’s right for your skin tone (I’m looking at you Paley McPalerson grabbing at the ‘dark’ bottle) or use a lotion that builds up color very gradually over many uses. Or keep your eye on Groupon for discounts on a fancy salon-administered spray tan!
16. Shovel someone’s sidewalk
The holiday season isn’t the only time of the year for good deeds. Maintaining sidewalks during the winter can be really time consuming and an icy, unsalted walkway can be really, really dangerous.
If you’re young, able-bodied and in the market for some good karma, have a go at someone else’s sidewalk after the big storm. Of course, you can use this as an excuse to get closer to your good-looking neighbor, but it’d probably be a lot more helpful for that little old lady or your friend with the broken ankle.
17. Eat your vitamin D
One of the main causes of seasonal depression is lack of vitamin D – because we have less exposure to the sun. Of course, the best way to stock up on Vitamin D is by getting some sunlight on your skin, but if sub-zero temperatures are preventing that, you can also eat your D!
Here’s a list foods that are particularly high in Vitamin D – chief among those are fish, soy, mushrooms and vitamin-fortified cereals.
Want to cook up some Vitamin D-tastic dishes? Try fish tacos, homemade chai with soy milk or mushroom pie.
18. Try a winter sport
Sure, there are lots of things you can’t do in winter – skinny dip, picnic, pick wildflowers. But there are also tons of fantastic winter-specific sports and activities that you can’t do outside of December – February. So why not embrace all those snowy, icy options? Surely there are at least a few of these that you like!
Why not try:
Sledding // Ice skating // Curling // Broomball // Hockey // Ice fishing // Snowmobiling // Downhill skiing // Cross-country skiing //
Snowshoeing // Snowboarding // Tubing // Polar bear plunging // Snowman building
19. Make snowcream
If you, like every other elementary school girl, read Little House On The Prairie, you are probably already well-versed on the wonders of snow cream.
Wanna make some?
Here are the ingredients:
1 gallon of snow
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups milk
When it starts to snow, place a large, clean bowl outside to collect the flakes. When full, stir in sugar and vanilla to taste, then stir in just enough milk for the desired consistency. Serve immediately.
20. Make arm or leg warmers
One of the keys to enjoying winter is embracing the things that make it different from other seasons. And one of those things? Leg warmers and arm warmers.
Now, I know that Target has some cute $15 leg warmers on offer. But wouldn’t be more fun to make them yourself out of that old wool sweater? And some of that cute ribbon sitting around?
21. Plan a weekend away
Isn’t funny how a change of scenery can make all the difference in the world? Pile into a car with your friends, drive three hours and sleep in a bed that’s not yours and all of a sudden the world is a new and splendid place.
Planning a weekend away can take a bit of work, but I promise you – those memories are worth their weight in gold.
Some ideas for weekend adventures that won’t break the bank!
* Somebody’s parents’ vacation home
Do you know anybody whose parents own a second home? Or better yet – a lake house? Chances are they’re not using it in the winter and they’d be happy to let you spend the weekend there, snowshoeing in the woods and checking out the little towns nearby.
* Camping cabins
Many state parks include adorable camping cabins. For $50, you and three friends get a heated cabin with electricity and beds (but no bathroom) deep in a state park. You’ll feel so rugged cooking on your camping stove and sleeping in a sleeping bag.
* Megabus adventures
Grab a few friends and check out the Megabus website. If you live in a large-ish city in the Northeastern half of the country, there’s a good chance Megabus stops in your town. Take a bus to Chicago for the weekend! Or Cleveland! Or Madison! It’s super cheap and you won’t have to worry about parking or driving in scary traffic.
* Last-minute travel packages
If you’re feeling really splashy, check out the last-minute flight+hotel packages on Orbitz and Travelocity. You can frequently find flight and three nights in a hotel for less than $500 to lots of different warm weather destinations!
22. Learn the winter constellations
I was probably 25 before I realized that the constellations in the winter sky were different than the ones in the summer. Be ye not so stupid as me, friends!
In addition to sounding smart, constellation spotting is just plain fun.
There are three ways you can do it:
1) Bundle up with a friend, put a hot beverage in a thermos, grab an astronaut blanket and lay down in a snowy field.
2) Borrow a friend’s car with a sun or moon roof and check that business out from the warmth of your car
3) Buy/borrow/steal a telescope and check ’em out from inside your house.
Of course, you know that option one is the most fun.
23. Make a snow fort
There are certain things that we never grow out of.
For me, those things are:
1) Eating cookie dough
2) The Muppets
3) A deep and abiding love of snow forts
They’re super, super fun to make. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon with friends. All your nieces/nephews/neighborhood kids will think you are The Coolest and when you’re done, you have a cool place to hang out.
You know, instead of inside your perfectly nice apartment with central heat.
Building the perfect snow fort is something of a science, requiring very specific snow and tools.
Isn’t music from the forties and fifties deliciously cozy? This is not to discount the awesome that is Nirvana or Ace of Base, but those are hardly bands that make you want to canoodle in front of a fireplace.
Best case scenario? Scour your local thrift stores for a real, actual record player and records starring dapper, crooning gentlemen or sweet-faced girl groups. There’s something really lovely about the pops and crackles of records.
If you can’t swing that, tune into the Pandora stations of Etta James, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis or Frank Sinatra. Turn the lights down low, pour yourself a glass of wine, turn off all your electronic gadgets and sink into those gorgeous voices.
25. Take a traditional sauna
Did you know that saunas are more than just sweat-scented rooms at the YMCA? Yes. Let this winter be the one that you perfect the art of the real, true Scandinavian sauna.
1. Learn how to pronounce it correctly. Annoy everyone by doing so.
2. If at all possible, find a friend who has an actual sauna in their home – not one at the gym.
3. Take a shower before you enter the sauna
4. If you’re feeling brave or you’re with close friends, strip down to your birthday suit and sit on a towel
5. If the sauna isn’t humid enough for your liking, add some water to the hot coals – put a bit of eucalyptus oil in the water if you’re feeling fancy
6. For those devote traditionalists, thwap yourself with some birch branches (!) or – probably more realistically – have a go at your rough spots with a loofah
7. When you’ve reaching your boiling point, jump into a cool shower, into a lake or have a roll in the snow. You’ll feel
a) really awake b) like a million bucks
8. Drinks tons and tons of water
Though it doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable or relaxing, as someone who grew up around saunas, I can personally vouch for their awesomeness. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday night!
26. Have an indoor picnic
Just because it’s snowing outside, doesn’t mean you’re limited to hot soups and heavy casseroles. Why not throw down a blanket, splash out on some out of season produce and put on a spring-ful playlist?
Ingredients for a successful indoor picnic!
* A thermostat that’s turned up
* A blanket
* Your cutest sundress (you can top it with a cardigan and wear it with cute socks and oxfords)
* Festive plastic dinnerware
* A thermos full of adult beverage (like ginger shandies or cucumber-lemonade chiller)
* Muffuletta sandwiches
* Watermelon and cantaloupe salad with mint vinaigrette
* Playing cards for all sorts of fun, old-fashioned games
27. Perfect a difficult recipe
Winter is the perfect time to get really, really good at indoor activities – and if those activities lead to something delicious – so much the better!
Why not devote a few quiet nights to perfecting an advanced, challenging recipe? Sure, it’ll probably take you a few tries to get it right but it’ll be a great adventure and learning process. Once you’ve got it mastered, you’ll win every dinner party ever.
28. Play board games
Words With Friends on your Iphone is great. As is Angry Birds. But one of the things that makes winter awful is the fact that no one wants to leave their house and engage in actual human contact. Let’s fix that – invite a bunch of friends over for a night of vintage board games, drinks and nibbles!
29. Learn to layer
Chief among our frustrations with winter is the fact that we have to dress warmly. Dressing warmly and cutely isn’t always easy – but it’s not impossible!
Tips for layering while cute!
1.Silk long underwear
I’ve sung their praises before but it bears repeating. Go buy a pair. Yesterday. They’re comfortable, warm and so thin you can wear them under everything. These are especially necessary if you walk to work, work in an under-heated space or are trying to save money by keeping the heat low.
2.If you’re wearing boots, wear wool socks
No one will the wiser, but you’ll be exponentially warmer!
3. Layer from the thinnest piece up
The thinnest piece of clothing you’re wearing should go against your skin (silk long underwear, a camisole or Spanks) and the heaviest layer (a sweater, scarf or jacket) goes on top. If you mix this up, you’ll just look lumpy!
4. Show off the contrast between your layers
Layering a blue sweater on top of a blue tank top isn’t particularly exciting. What about a solid color over a print? Or two different prints in coordinating colors? Or a silky scarf over a tough tweed? Now we’re talking!
5. Don’t layer like with like
Ruffled cardigan over a ruffled shirt = no. Ruffled cardigan over a simple chambray shirt = a hearty yes!
Here are some more cute layering ideas.
Whew! That’s a small novel devoted to making winter nigh-on lovely. Please read it, use it, share it with your friends who live in cold, snowy places!
Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you make winter cozy and enjoyable?