Dr. Jennifer MacKenzie BSc, NDMind/Body, Naturopathy, Stress

The holidays for Canadians can be a busy time, with parties, entertaining, planning time with friends and family and shopping or making gifts for our loved ones. With all these plans, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed during the holidays. Wouldn’t a more relaxed version of the holidays be appealing? Considering the way the Danes enjoy the winter season, may shed some light on a more laid back festive season.

With frozen rivers, holiday markets, cross country skiing, polar bear dips and wrapping it all up with a Varm kakao (hot chocolate) in a cozy country inn, who enjoys the winters more than the Danes? Considering that the Danes experience some of the coldest winters and only six hours of daylight in the winter, it seems amazing that they happen to be some of happiest people on earth. So how can Canadians bring in some holiday cheer like the Danes? Let’s consider the concept that the Danes call “Hygge”.

Hygge (/ˈhjuːɡə/ HOO-gə) (Pronounced Hue-Guh)
A Danish word for a quality of cosiness (= feeling warm, comfortable and safe) that comes from doing simple things such as lighting candles, baking or spending time at home with your family.

Hygge comes from a Norwegian word for “wellness”. It is more of a feeling or mental state, rather than a physical state. It emphasizes a person’s wellbeing. Examples include a group of friends enjoying food and conversation around a dinner table or a person simply enjoying a cup of tea, curled up in a blanket.

You may have heard of the concept of “Hygge” from several articles published in 2016 and this way of life has become quite popular around the world but I want to explore the concept since it may offer a different perspective for how to enjoy the holidays.

Here are some ways to bring the Danish Hygge into the holiday season.

Find pleasure in the simple things, such as drinking a delicious cup of tea, listening to music, reading a good book or enjoying time with friends.

In Denmark, to create a Hygge atmosphere, it’s traditional to light a candle every morning with a cup of tea and every evening with a meal. Be sure to use pure beeswax candles or all-natural soy wax candles. Synthetic scented candles can create indoor air pollution and should be avoided.

This practice of being present may be difficult for some, especially with a busy schedule and several responsibilities. Beginning with a mindfulness practice, can make this experience easier. Begin by simply focusing on your breath, without judgment; allow your thoughts to pass through your mind. Now bring your attention to your body and pay attention to the tension that you may be carrying. Continue breathing and allow for your breath to support you in letting go of tension. Avoid getting caught up in your thoughts; just let them pass and return your attention to the rhythm of your breath.

Here is a link to a guided meditation to help you begin this process.

Here are some herbal teas to consider to promote relaxation:

  • Catnip leaves: a member of the mint family, this herb can help soothe indigestion and support sleep.
  • Valerian root: a potent smelling herbal tea that can help to reduce tension and anxiety. It can also be used as a natural sleep-aid, and relieves pain that is associated with muscle tension, such as headaches.
  • Passionflower flower and leaves: This plant can be used to help with restlessness, irritability, muscle spasms and difficulty sleeping.

Always be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new herbal blend.

Holiday gatherings don’t need to have perfectly styled tables with a gourmet 5-course meal. Hygge is not about extravagance; rather it’s about enjoying your time with friends and family. Consider a potluck style brunch with friends and family where everyone can bring their favourite dish to share and lighten your load as a host. Consider having each of your guests choose a type of dish that they would like to bring so you don’t end up with five broccoli salads.

Incorporate winter seasonal foods such as parsnips, beets, kale and winter squash into meals. With the cold weather, be sure to eat more warming foods such as soups and stews to support digestion. Be sure to get enough vitamin D during the cold, dark winter days. Foods high in vitamin D include yogourt, eggs and fish.

Here’s a recipe for a warming winter stew:

Red Lentil, Butternut and Kale Stew

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 cups peeled, seeded and diced butternut squash or any winter squash
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (2 1/2 cups)
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1 (14-ounce/398 mL) can diced tomatoes
1 (14-ounce/398 mL) can light coconut milk
1/2 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ tablespoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like heat)
Fine sea salt or Himalayan salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 teaspoons (15 mL) apple cider vinegar or to taste (optional)
1 bunch of green or black kale, rinsed and chopped (about 3 cups)

To a large pot, add the oil, onion and garlic. Stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is softened.

Add the squash and sweet potato and stir to combine. Add a pinch of salt and continue sautéeing for a few minutes longer.

Add the broth, diced tomatoes (with juices), coconut milk, lentils, tomato paste, curry powder, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.

Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, stir again and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash and potato are fork-tender. Reduce the heat if necessary.

Add the apple cider vinegar to taste (optional). Adjust the other seasonings if desired.

Stir in the kale, and cook for another couple minutes until the greens are wilted.

Enjoy with your favourite garnishes such as cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, chilli garlic paste, etc.

Adapted from Oh She Glows – Butternut, Sweet Potato, Red Lentil Stew

Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to what your eating, and paying attention to how you’re eating your food. Here are some simple ways to practice mindful eating.

  • Take some slow deep breaths prior to eating; this will put you in the right state of mind to promote digestion.
  • Listening to your body and stop eating when your full – Slowing down your eating can be done by setting down your fork between bites or chewing each bite 25 times or more. By slowing down your eating you allow you brain to receive the signals from your stomach that you’re full. You also tend to enjoy your food more when you slow down.
  • Eating when our bodies tell us to eat (i.e. when your stomach is growling)
  • Eating with others at a set time and place – Eating at a table with others at set times can help develop a healthy eating routine and create stronger connections with others. Eating with others also allows us to slow down as we enjoy conversation.

Enjoying your environment is an essential part of hygge. This can be done by creating a cozy nook in your home for reading, writing and meditation. Create a place that gives you a sense of peace, relaxation and comfort.

Now you don’t need to be a Danish ice swimmer to enjoy the outdoors in the wintertime.
Simple outdoor activities can offer many benefits; survey studies have shown that those who spend more time outdoors experience fewer depressive symptoms. Whether it’s taking an early morning walk or going snowshoeing on the weekend with your family or friends, paying attention to the outdoor environment can offer a reprise from your busy life. Connecting with nature in the winter can be a great way to de-stress, quiet your mind and have fun.

The holidays bring so many moments and things to be grateful for; it’s the season of spending time with friends and family, enjoying festivities and showing kindness to those in need.
Here are some simple gratitude practices:

  • Each day, think of 3 things you are grateful for.
  • Begin a gratitude journal.
  • Express gratitude. Show your appreciation for those who are kind to you. Take the opportunity to show kindness to others.




“3 Ways to Practice Gratitude.” Edited by D’Arcy Lyness, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Oct. 2016, kidshealth.org/en/teens/gratitude-practice.html.

Beyer K, Szabo A, Nattinger A. “Time Spent Outdoors, Depressive Symptoms, and Variation by Race and Ethnicity.” American Journal Of Preventive Medicine [serial online]. September 1, 2016;51:281-290. Available from: ScienceDirect, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 30, 2017.

Catnip. 14 Feb. 2015, naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=831#effectiveness. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.

“Food Sources of Vitamin D.” Dietitians of Canada, 23 Nov. 2016, www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-D.

Green, Amy. “Hygge: 8 Blissful Ways to Embrace the Danish Art of Coziness.” Alive, 18 Jan. 2017, www.alive.com/lifestyle/embrace-danish-art-hygge .

Hearm, Sara. “Passiflora incarnata.” The Naturopathic Herbalist, 13 Sept. 2015, thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2015/09/13/passiflora-incarnata/.

Hearm, Sara. “Valeriana officinalis.” The Naturopathic Herbalist, 13 Sept. 2015, thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2015/09/14/valeriana-officinalis/.

“Hygge Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary, dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/hygge.

Willard, Christopher. “6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating.” Mindful, Mindful, 13 Oct. 2016, www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/.

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