First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and of course we still have New Year’s to look forward to (here it’s called Oud en Nieuw, or Old and New) but I want to share how we spent our Christmas.
We had, what the Dutch call, a gezellig Christmas. Wait, hold on a moment, what does gezellig mean?
Sander defines gezellig as “being in a small and enjoyable setting with friends and family.” The term can be used liberally though. I had neighbors over to meet baby Haru, chat, and have some tea with cake. This time spent together can also be gezellig.
I recently read about a similar topic in a book I finished earlier this week, The Little Book of Hygge. It sounded like one of those fad books that everyone gets hyped about. But something about this book resonated with me.
I’ve been seeing this book everywhere (even in Dutch book stores) and it caught my interest. So I got my hands on an English copy and made the time to read it. It’s a fast read and simple to digest but what spoke to me was the content.
Now this book has decent reviews. What shocked me was the idea that people thought this would be a life changing book. That it would rock the earth to its core and deliver some profound message. That’s not what this book is though. It addresses a cultural idea called hygge, which is like what gezellig feels like.
Imagine my surprise when the author mentioned how something gezellig is “a sense of well-being based on good food and good company.” It’s a cultural word that echos between the Dutch and the Danish (Germany also has a very similar word, Gemütlichkeit).
In short, The Little Book of Hygge discusses a physical and emotional experience and is not a rule book on how to live life. The book goes into a lot of detail on how to get started on experiencing the meaning of gezellig and hygge. But it’s not anything out of the ordinary. Anyone can achieve it. You need to know what to look for.
So how can I explain what a cultural experience is to someone who has not experienced it?
We had shared a meal, gourmet, where we prepared our own food and shared small talk. The gentle sizzle of cooking meat and veggies accompanied by stories of how we enjoyed 2017. Conversation is light and almost playful. In the background we can hear the dogs snoring. Heaters in the room make the temperature comfy and warm while outside it’s drizzling. The lights are low and the Christmas tree twinkles behind us.
After we eat our fill, we sit down together with a hot cup of tea to open our Christmas presents. We all take turns unwrapping our gifts and after that we have more soft conversation. There’s no tension in the air, there’s no talk of politics or heavy topics. We smile, we laugh, we take delight in each other’s company. After that, we say our goodbyes and head home for late night snacks and more tea.
This night is one you could call gezellig. It was a meaningful and beautiful experience. It was calm and almost lazy because we were all so relaxed and at peace. This is what it means to have a gezellig moment. It’s a time spent with people you enjoy. And this was how we spent our Christmas day.