by Pamela Capriotti Martin
Simple pleasures. Family, friends, graciousness; sharing and caring for others. The Danish word “hygge” has become part of our vocabulary recently, and this year, it was pretty much the guide I used as I bought my Christmas gifts.
It isn’t about the expense. It isn’t about technology or hype. It’s about bringing the actual ‘comfort and joy’ in the old song, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.
As a writer, we are meant to give texture to our writing with more than just dialogue and plot points, bringing together the ‘life’ details around our characters. It’s really the same for the Christmas season for me. Living in the South there are some missing elements: the scent of the pine trees, the feeling of snowflakes on your eyelashes. The scent of a first snow before it begins. The warmth of hot chocolate in your mittened hands. And so, Hygge is about honoring the five senses for me this Christmas. The sounds. The sights. The tastes. The touch. The smells. The simplicity that brings joy.
I’ve created a Christmas playlist on my phone. Random Christmas songs don’t bring me joy. I love the sounds of Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and perhaps a few artists who are still with us, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and even a little Madonna.
My top ten songs for Christmas:
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Santa Baby by Madonna
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Michael Buble
Count Your Blessings by Rosemary Clooney
Holy Night by John McDermott
Sleigh Ride by Harry Connick Jr.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Dean Martin (childhood favorite)
Silent Night by Frank Sinatra (1957)
The scents of Christmas support the feelings of warmth. I’m a candle person. My diffuser is always out of whatever is meant to bring scent to a room, but my candles this season bring warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the fruitiness of cranberries, the piney woods, and even the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven. (Although, there are plenty of cookies baking.)
Taste. There are so many tastes that evoke the season. The tartness of dried cranberries in granola, biscotti, and oatmeal cookies. Who needs raisins? The warmth of cider with spices and a beautiful velvety chocolaty hot chocolate. I’ve included recipes for both. My husband is Irish and Italian and so it’s not Christmas without a Christmas pudding, a large pot of spaghetti on Christmas Eve and mince pies.
While my grandmother scented the house with Norwegian Christmas traditions of lefse, warm rommegrot (a Norwegian pudding) topped with cinnamon and sugar and the not so welcome Lutekfisk, my grandfather, who was German brought out the pickled herring and sauerkraut. The best though were her homemade cookies, the sandbakkels which signaled Christmas to me. They’re baked in little tart tins and some were terribly stubborn and didn’t come out of the tin perfectly. And that meant they were to be eaten because they wouldn’t make the cookie tray. Shucks.
Warm flannel nightgowns made by my mother were part of our Christmas tradition. I remember particularly one that was a pale blue print with hearts, so soft and warm for those cold Minnesota winters. My daughters have received Christmas pajamas for most of their years, not always flannel pj pants but some in soft cotton or silky fabric that feels delightful on the skin. There have been cashmere socks or hats and scarves, mittens, and other things that envelope us in warmth. Not to mention handwarmers from LLBean in the ski boots and ski mittens.
The sights of Christmas are married with the sounds.
Films and Books I recommend:
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – A beautifully illustrated children’s book
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – Strangers on a train bound for Los Angeles at Christmas
Letters from Father Christmas J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 from Father Christmas to his children
Madeline’s Christmas Ludwig Bemelmens – My favorite childhood heroine
The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life
A Christmas Wish by Lori Evert (Author), Per Breiehagen (Illustrator) – A beautiful book. Anja wants to be one of Santa’s elves. When she skis off in her quest to find Santa, a bird, horse, musk ox, polar bear, and reindeer show her the way.
Holiday Inn – Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Every single number but the 4th of July dance with the firecrackers is my favorite.
Come to the Stable – Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. I loved the tennis-playing nun the best.
Miracle on 34th Street – Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn. I wanted to be Susan. And I wanted her house.
Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyk. Just a sweet retro pic.
The Santa Claus – Tim Allen. I don’t love Tim Allen but I do love the whole silly premise but mostly the relationship between Charlie and his dad. And the souped up sleigh.
Love Actually – Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and more.
And perhaps one of my very favorites, no matter the season, Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – made me want to do research and learn to make floating islands. I did. If you like this one – get every single one of the Hepburn/Tracy films. They’re dynamite.
One of the best parts of the season are the activities that bring you together as a family. Wrapping presents together. Creating your own festive wraps by decorating plain brown wrapping paper with a stamp with silver or gold, or writing Merry Christmas or other holiday words in script with a colored marker. Putting red or green ribbons around each package and making tags from old cards or brown cardstock and tying a bit of evergreen to the bow. Making ornaments.
Playing a game. In years past we broke into teams to play Trivial Pursuit. Mapomimoes (Europe) is a new favorite geography game. Apples to Apples or Candyland (another childhood favorite) with the younger crowd. Doing a Christmas puzzle together on the floor. Baking cookies or making gifts for teachers together. Making sure you allow the young ones to add their own creative and unique suggestions ensuring the perfection in the adult in you doesn’t overpower their vision.
For the time in Vermont this year, I’m packing the games, the pajamas, the hot chocolate mix I’ve made, the books, the songs, and I’ll decorate a little tree in Vermont. We will have ourselves a Merry Hygge Christmas. I hope there’s snow. (I’m sure there is snow)!
Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.
To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved.
Homemade Mulling Spice
large orange, zested, peel and pith, minced
1 ounce jar cinnamon sticks, chipped
.75 ounce whole allspice
.75 ounce whole cloves
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and put a piece of parchment paper down.
Scatter the zest, peel and pith over the parchment paper and bake for about an hour until dry. Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sticks in a Ziploc and wrap it in a towel. Smash. I use a wooden meat hammer but a rolling pin would work.
Mix everything gently together and store in an airtight container.
Add 1 tablespoon to each eight ounces of cider. Warm and strain into a mug.