One thing that strikes me about summertime in Copenhagen is the endless amount of random (and not so random) chill-out events in parks, streets, squares and other public places around the city. People of all types and ages get together, hang out, relax, enjoy food, drinks and live music. There was the Søndagsvenner event which I wrote about in my last blog post and there were several more including Stella Polaris last Sunday which they call “probably the biggest outdoor chill-out event in the world”.
Set amongst the stunning natural surroundings of Fredriksberg Have thousands of people laid out their blankets, enjoyed a picnic, read a book, played board games or just chilled in the sun. Although Stella Polaris was a massive event it still felt like a relaxed, tranquil togetherness – almost like a spontaneous gathering of some friends, arranged with what had to be some kind of relaxed thoughtfulness that made the event appear well-organised without being too elaborate or overly planned. After having lived in Copenhagen for just over three months now, this sort of happening seems to describe perfectly one of the few Danish words I have learned: hyggelig!
Hygge or hyggelig is not only a word though, it is a state of mind, an experience, a culturally rooted atmosphere which is just as difficult to translate as it is to pronounce. When I asked my flatmate what hyggelig means she first explained it as something ‘cozy’ ‘comfortable’ ‘relaxed’ but not only that. In the end she decided that it doesn’t translate into one English word. It is more than that! Hyggelig is definitely a central term by which Danes seem to refer to a certain quality of sociality – an informal, down-to-earth, friendly, homey, warm, relaxed, cosy, comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, ideally including the easygoing, conflict-free company of family or friends. After doing some research on the term I came to understand that in Danish culture hyggelig receives a specific cultural emphasis due to its rooting in egalitarian values that don’t permit anyone to take center stage, to ‘stick-out’ or dominate a situation for very long. Hyggelig creates therefore an authentic, unpretentious, intimate atmosphere devoid of status-competition or calculated ‘frontstage’ behaviour – a stress-free environment that allows everyone to relax and ‘be-oneself’. It was this hyggelig sociality which set the stage for Stella Polaris and all those other chill-out events, absorbing participants in an experience of a cozy, safe, low-key, intimate form of free-flowing socialisation, a kind of ‘public-oasis’ that provides pleasure, rather than having a representative, status enhancing function. Surely I enjoyed that Sunday afternoon a lot and all I really want to add to this is: thank you Copenhagen, it was hyggelig!