Scandinavians spend 18 to 20 hours in a frigid and dark environment from mid-November through February. Yet, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark rank consistently as the happiest countries on Earth. These people have perfected the art of making up for a lack of sunlight and turned the northern hemisphere's cold and lightless winter axis into a concept known as koselig (koosh-lee). Not easily translated into English, Koselig is an art form in which people communally take responsibility for creating a feel good atmosphere.
Smells, sights, sounds, and touch work in harmony to bring out the best in each of us. Candles, roaring fires, and oil lamps provide a glowing light and welcome guests in from the cold. Attention to details and a relaxed, unfussy atmosphere in which friends and family can enjoy being together is as the heart of koselig. Scientific studies support the idea that when we give of ourselves, we find greater meaning in life. Taking time to insure the comfort of others provides visitors with a sense that they are welcomed, wanted, and loved. Imagine the possibilities if each and every day as families, friends, and acquaintances, we went the extra mile to appreciate one another in small but meaningful ways.
Koselig does not require lengthy preparations, but rather a commitment to reflect on daily life and choose to slow down and make each moment matter. A stocked pantry helps....think tasty drinks and nibbles that might include some hot cocoa, tea selections, cured meats, roasted nuts, and quality dried fruits. Then go one step further and use the fine china, grandma's silver & pressed cloth napkins. Oh, and don't forget, take 5 minutes to pull the items out of packaging and arrange in a thoughtful manner.
Wholesome food, mostly plates that can be shared are prepared and ready for guests just dropping by to say hello--a concept that strictly evades the American call before you come protocol. In fact, unannounced friends and neighbors are part of the koselig concept. It perpetuates a thought process that individuals should live in a way that produces personal comfort and joy while extending a generosity of spirit.
Spreading intimacy and happiness is an important part of Scandinavian citizenship that has evolved into a pursuit of finding ways to make the best of a geographical position that leaves these countries beneath cold and dark skies much of the year. Blankets play an important role in the concept of koselig coziness. Draping chairs, spilling over baskets and folded neatly on kitchen benches. It is expected that guests will reach for a colorful, soft throw and let their host know they are comfortable enough to stay a bit longer. And if snow is falling outside, place a basket of colorful wool socks out to add to a warm and fuzzy atmosphere. Then put up your stocking feet and pass cups of warmed cider or if it is the weekend, pass a flask filled with the best whiskey you can find (think Japanese or small artisanally crafted and share the story behind it too).
Distilled spirits go along way in creating a let your hair down koselig community void of the depression usually associated with a frozen landscape in which only polar bears seem to find cozy. When the soul is warmed, the heart seems to follow.
A gathering of friends is best when there is little stress. Koselig is so much more than entertaining, it is learning to live well, treat yourself to life's small pleasures, and to share in the warmth that
While koselig is easiest to explain in terms of winter, the concept of koselig when sunlight exposes the gorgeous Scandinavian landscape for nearly twenty hours a day involves much of the same. Families and friends play Kubb, an old Viking lawn game involving two teams attempting to throw wooden batons to successfully capture the opponent's king by knocking over the wooden blocks on the opposing team's side of the pitch first. Of course the game is merrier when flasks are passed and blankets offered as the Baltic Sea breeze chillies the air even during the summer months.
The traditional Swedish Princess Cake consists of alternating layers of airy sponge cake, pastry cream, and a thick-domed layer of whipped cream. Topped with a lovely seafoam green marzipan and a pretty in pink marzipan rose, this dessert is always in koselig fashion.
Koselig requires the host's presence. So in winter or summer, food and it's preparation are a shared experience. Cooking a simple, healthy meal together around a circular grill is part of the art of koselig. Pass the chopsticks and the dipping sauce and a virtually mess free meal will leave time for enjoying the sunset and an after dinner polar bear plunge aboard a floating sauna (where of course, another flask is passed) and the fleeting summer months are appreciated to their fullest even when the temperature rarely rises above 72 degrees F.
Skål to a people who have turned their northern exposure into something that fosters friendship, community and happiness throughout the year. Cheers to a 2018 a year filled with as much koselig as possible in our own American lives.