Advice from Norwegians
Photos and Article by Nicole Thom-Arens

A few years ago, the Danish word “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga), which means cozy, found its way into American vocabulary. Images of blankets and roaring fireplaces filled Pinterest pages. Today, stores and specialty shops carry beautifully bound books on the topic, such as How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life. Suddenly, this word became a lifestyle movement for Americans. As I researched this idea, I discovered Norwegians have their own word for a similar idea, “koselig” (pronounced koosh-ly), which roughly translates to nice.

“We’re friends getting together, and it can be very koselig. Haven’t seen you for a long time? ‘Oh, it’s so koselig to see you again,’” Tove Henderson says, trying to further translate the idea into English. “After you’ve been out skiing, you go in and have coffee and visit, you have a very nice time—koselig tea.”

Tove grew up in Norway near Oslo but has lived in North Dakota for 47 years. We met at Hostfest, the Scandinavian festival held annually in Minot. I set out to the festival to discover the Norwegian secrets to embracing the winter months. Lars Roalkvam, a chef who travels from his home in southwestern Norway to Minot for Hostfest, says koselig has a variety of meanings.

“It can mean different things—being together with family, being in a cabin, having the fireplace going, having good food, something good to drink, or just spending time with your kids. It’s just to embrace life and to take care of the good things and enjoy yourself,” Lars says.

For me, December is always the busiest time of year. Papers and exams pile up, grades are due, and the semester ends. There are holiday parties to attend and gifts to wrap. It takes effort to remember to enjoy the holiday season, and after the weeks around Christmas and New Year pass, it’s difficult to endure three more months of dark, cold days. The Norwegians I met helped me redefine what winter could be.

“Some of the Norwegians, they just love the dark season. Me, on the other hand, I’m not too fond of it, but my wife, she just loves it,” Lars says. “You will have people who can’t wait until they see the snow, and they are sorry to see it go when it gets closer to April.”

Hage Nilsen lives in northern Norway, about two hours north of Tromso. She’s a paramedic who works two hours away from her home. Sometimes she’ll catch a ride on a helicopter to work, but on those stormy winter days, she has to make the slow commute via car.

“The roads are often closed. We have a lot of avalanches because of the high mountains, that’s life. You can’t stop the weather,” Hage says.

Despite the difficulties, Hage loves her home and isn’t interested in moving. Nature, though, has its reward for those willing to endure the worst winter has to offer.

“The toughest months of the winter are December and January because we don’t have daylight. It’s dark all around, but we have the aurora, the Green Lady, she lights up for us,” Hage says. “December is very special because the little light there is, we call it the blue hour, because it’s almost like blue light, and it’s really special and it’s beautiful to be outside.”

Being outside all year round is an important part of Norwegian life especially in the winter. Snowmobiling and cross country and downhill skiing bring family and friends together.

“They (Hage’s two sons) both like snowmobile riding, so they’ll ride snowmobile in the winter. We go up in the mountains. Mom sits on the sledge in the back, and we make dinner up in the mountains. We make a bonfire or have a small grill—make sausages, hamburgers.”

“People tend to put their skis on when it’s snowing,” Lars says. “They love to start early in the morning, having a small lunch, have a warm chocolate, some oranges, some sandwiches, take the whole family, go walking on their skis for four, five hours, six hours, go home, and they’ll say, ‘I had the most beautiful day ever.’”

As I watch the falling snow outside my office window while I write, I have a newfound excitement. I look forward to strapping on my snowshoes and tromping through the park while I remind myself to never wish away time.