I’m a little obsessed with the Scandinavian way of life. The commitment to gender equality, shared parental leave, children’s rights, and accessible healthcare makes me swoon. People spend a lot of time outdoors, value childhood, and aren’t hung up about sex. The no-brainer idea that everyone has a right to be treated fairly is not only valued by citizens but upheld by public policy. Imagine that.
Then there are the unique lifestyle traditions of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, like spending time outdoors everyday no matter the weather, napping babies outside and buying unassembled furniture with unpronounceable names. While some traditions seem downright bizarre – is it really necessary to see how long you can sit on an ants’ nest? – many more are clear genius. Any country that has a word for “getting drunk at home in your underwear” (thank you, Findland) is obviously brilliant. Add to that the fact that Scandinavians report among the highest happiness rates in the world, and it’s no wonder I’m constantly chewing on Swedish Fish and hanging out at IKEA.
One thing I’ve always wondered, though, is how our friends in the north make it through their notoriously harsh winters. Norway, the northernmost Scandinavian country, experiences an average of four hours of light per day during the winter. I can barely deal with a week of cold rain, let alone months of frigid snow and darkness, so how do Scandinavians survive the winter without falling into a funk?
It’s simple: they embrace it. Rather than a discomfort to be endured, winter is praised as a season to be enjoyed. Think of all the amazing things you can do in winter! Ski, sled, ice skate. Celebrate the holidays, knit sweaters, wear thick woolen gloves. Sip hot chocolate, savor pea soup and pancakes, throw back a glass of aquavit. Yes, please! Most importantly, during a season that leaves many of us feeling blue, indulge in radical self-care and do what makes you happy.
Whether it’s sharing a meal with friends or nesting at home by the fire, for those who dread winter’s dark days, here are a few Scandinavian traditions to pull you through:
Scandinavians do not wait out the winter cooped up alone at home. Swedes are often out and about, taking part in communal celebrations, like Lucia in the winter, or traveling to each other’s houses for a meal. The Swedish tradition of meeting up for coffee, called fika, always involves conversation and is considered an important part of the day. Studies show that being social is important to good health, both mental and physical.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
It’s not hard to load up on sugar during the cold months, especially around the holidays. While in our culture it’s considered an indulgence that often triggers guilt and promises to cleanse later, in Scandinavian countries, it’s an acceptable way to embrace the cold. Creamy hot chocolate, saffron and raisin buns (saffranbullar) and homemade treats are all a part of daily life.
It’s hard for me to exercise no matter what the weather, but in winter, I’m basically a sloth. Not so for the Scandinavians. According to the Swedish Sports Confederation, almost half of Sweden’s of 9.4 million inhabitants belong to a sports team or club. And since research shows that exercise helps alleviate depression, maybe we can stay happy in the winter by moving our bodies.
The Norwegian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” is another way of saying it’s never too cold, wet or windy to get your butt outside. Taking fresh air is a way of life for Scandinavians and is a great mood booster. So bundle up, and take a brisk walk around the block. Bonus points for getting a little exercise too.
Soak in the Sun
When the sun does come out, however limited, you’ll find Swedes lining the park benches and lingering outdoors, faces turned up towards the sky. After so many weeks of darkness, it’s only natural to want to feel the warmth of the sun, plus it raises your serotonin, which is a natural mood elevator.
Hit the Sauna
Saunas are not just warm places to relax your muscles, but also where you kibitz with your friends. In Norway, many apartment buildings come equipped with communal saunas. Sitting in a sauna relieves stress, flushes out toxins, and is good for heart health. If a spa day isn’t in the cards for you, a hot and steamy shower just might do the trick.
It may seem strange/incongruous against the backdrop of snow-covered streets, but you’ll often find freshly cut flowers in Swedish homes. Tulips are a favorite and are commonly found in flower shops during the winter months. What better way to combat the winter blues than with a vase of red posies?
I’ve always been a fan of Scandinavian design and decor with its clean lines and simple colors. Turns out those white walls and blond wood furniture serve a mood-boosting purpose: lighter hues, big windows and less clutter allow for as much light as possible to flood homes in the darker winter months. Another wintertime tradition is to light lots and lots of candles, creating light and warmth indoors.
If staying at home is your jam, then the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is for you. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being,” hygge entails all things warm and fuzzy. Candles are very important as are furry throws, thick knitted socks and a cozy nook to curl up with your coffee and favorite book. The idea is to relax and do what you love while staying warm indoors.
Staying positive during the cold months of winter isn’t always easy, but shifting into Scandinavian state of mind can help. Think of it as an opportunity to eat your favorite baked sweets, visit often with friends and indulge in some serious self-care. And don’t forget to light candles – lots and lots of candles.