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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Edmonton needs more 'hygge' over the winter

It's not easy to embrace winter.

Not when you're awake before sunrise and the remote car starter is pooched. Not when you have to unearth your vehicle and the only thing icier than your steering wheel is your hands because some time between yesterday and this morning your gloves entered another dimension and won't return until spring cleaning. Not when you arrive to a sidewalk to pick and shovel.

When your water pipes have frozen and burst and left you with a $2,000 bill, lacking sunlight seems like the least important contributor to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But if you ask the Danes—regularly ranked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as the happiest people on earth—they'll tell you that winter is the best time to partake in their favourite past-time "hygge."

Pronounced HYU-gah, it's hard to pronounce and even harder to define. It's like an emotional turducken of coziness, mirth and intimacy—with some trimmings of togetherness and relaxation. It can be a noun, verb or adjective (hyggeligt). You can hygge alone with book or have a hyggeligt time with friends.

"It's a particular atmosphere where you feel a sense of safety and warmth and pleasantness," says Marina Allemano, a Danish adjunct professor with the University of Alberta's department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies. "It's a psychological rescue, and Danish people seek it a lot during the winter just to feel better."

Norwegians—also high on the OECD's happiness index—have a similar word, koselig. And though you can hygge or koselig year-round, the concepts especially help the Northerners beat the winter doldrums.

"I go to Denmark every year," says Allemano, "and if you go in the winter, when there's dreariness in the streets, you just want to go home and create that atmosphere with the people you're with."

Danes might have to hygge harder than Edmontonians without that Prairie sunshine, so it's no wonder they take it so seriously.

"One of the greatest compliments after a dinner," she explains, "is to get a call the next morning and someone says, 'That was a very hyggeligt evening.' It was intimate, it was cozy, friendly, no arguments. You had the candles lit."

So how can bring some hygge to your life?

Above all, you'll need time—something harder to find in our increasingly busy, over-scheduled lives. But once that's carved out, gather friends (but not too many), music (but not too loud), comfort foods and libations (preferably mulled wine). Bonus points for pillows, blankets and wool sweaters.

Are your ceiling lights on? Turn them off. Hygge requires table lamps and a nearly hazardous amount of candles. ("Candles have always been a bit of a fetish," she says.)

Finally, start a fire and a conversation, then bask in the physical and emotional warmth you've created—letting -20 C weather and total darkness slip from memory.

And you can hygge alone, too, by cozying up with Baileys-soaked coffee and cats by the "inglenook"—a particularly lovely word that means the corner by a fireplace.

It's yours if you want it, Danes.

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