More than a little bit of hygge was in evidence at Harrogate Theatre when we invited Signe Johansen to share the secrets of the popular Scandinavian philosophy with the local community.
As all things should, the night began with coffee and cake: we brought a selection of cinnamon buns, hindbaersnitter, waffles, toscakake and kransekake to share.
The audience seemed to enjoy our treats in the theatre bar, and we had invited some of our friends to join us. Interiors business Enkelhed, based in Leeds, was showing some of its beautiful Scandi-inspired home accessories, Hesper Farm Skyr – which supplies our yogurt – was sharing some of its delicious treats, and Harrogate newcomer Bias was showing some of its Scandinavian-style clothing and accessories.
Once in the auditorium, the first thing to tackle was pronunciation: as well as explaining how different Scandi countries pronounce hygge, Signe discussed its meaning. It goes far beyond the simplistic idea of cosy knits, warming candles and good food: it’s about taking pleasure in everyday life, getting outdoors, and keeping things in balance.
As Signe said, you may want to get out and try archery, cross-country skiing or any number of other activities, but you should probably have a cinnamon bun and a flask hot chocolate in your bag – and the hot chocolate should probably have a nip of something in it, too.
Signe took us through her childhood in Norway and the closeness she felt to food, often being on the family farm and helping in the kitchen. She took that with her through university into her career.
Signe’s book, How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living, is not the only one on the topic to hit the shelves this year, but we think it stands out from the crowd. It’s stylish, interesting and full of good sense – just like hygge.
So why do we Brits suddenly have a fascination with a concept that our Scandinavian cousins have been enjoying for years? Signe had a theory that seemed to strike a chord with the audience.
“It comes from an old word for ‘think’,” she said. “It’s not something you do, it’s something you feel.
“It’s about taking pleasure in the simple things. A lot of modern life is anxiety-inducing: owning the right things, going to the right places, a fear of missing out – it’s so much nonsense.
“Hygge means going back to basics and simplifying your life.”
Her fascinating experiences and views were definitely a hit: there was a long queue at the Little Ripon Bookshop’s stand for signed books after the Q&A ended. Meanwhile, the few remaining baked treats from MJ in our kitchen soon disappeared too.
She may have moved on to the next part of her book tour, but Signe has definitely left behind a taste of hygge in Harrogate.