A New Holiday

The howling autumn wind and cascading leaves inspired me to take a walk around my back garden recently with my camera in tow. See, I say back garden like it’s no big deal. The thing is, a couple of months ago, we happened upon a vastly underpriced house, with more than enough bedrooms, an unbelievable backyard/garden, and incredible views onto the farmland and hills surrounding our village. It all sounds very la-dee-dah, for sure, but the thing is I’m not really sure how we got here on our budget. What I do know is that I’m fully intending to make the most of it. On this particular day, I was trying to capture the drama and beauty of the moment with my cell phone camera and no real photographic talent. What did occur to me was that it’s October, one of my favorite parts of the year, when it’s finally cool enough for me to wander around and be comfortable but not yet freezing, when the nights begin to draw in, and the “holiday” season is just around the corner.

It was while I was processing all of this and trying to catch the moment and my mood in a picture that I started thinking about quotes to do with October. The one that came to mind first was wrong: “October is the cruellest month.” My first thought was that the poet, who I later found was T.S. Elliott, was being quite unfair to this beautiful time of year, with its momentary splash of color and far more suitable temperatures. When I looked up the quote later I found that it was not Elliott who was wrong, it was me. Apparently, “April is the cruellest month.” I suppose I’ll have to revert to the second October quote that popped into my head. The great philosopher of our time, Bono, said:

October / And the trees are stripped bare / Of all they wear / What do I care?October / And kingdoms rise / And kingdoms fall / But you go on and on

OK, it’s not as straightforward as I could’ve hoped, but maybe it’s not so inappropriate. At the time of writing the post we are mere weeks away from a US presidential election that will either see the Trump kingdom fall or continue to rise. We are eight months into the Coronavirus revolution that, in time, will rewrite our everyday lives in ways that we are only just beginning to imagine. The UK has left the EU and the transition period ends with New Year, and yet no permanent deal for trade and the future relationship is anywhere on the horizon… not to mention the Scots may possibly be seeking a Brexit of their own in the near future. As pretty as the season is, there is more than enough uncertainty and downright anger to go around.

And so, many of us look to “The Holidays” for a bit of sparkle in a gloomy period of history. But what sparkle is there when we are to be cut off from family member who don’t live under our same roof? How joyous can we be when economic doom hangs over us like a thick autumn fog? What joy can be found when a both a Trump victory and a Trump defeat alike hold an avalanche of rage in store? Perhaps most disconcertingly, what joy is there in those holidays that are based upon a religion from which we have turned away?

There are options, of course. We could ignore those holidays altogether, or at least the religious aspects that make our eyes roll. We could play along and pretend, singing about the manger and such more out of nostalgia than out of devotion. We could attempt to cope in a good many ways, but I propose something utterly different. I propose a new holiday season. I suppose I could be accused of doing what the Christians did to the pagans and stealing their religious observance to fit my own purpose. But hasn’t that already been done to serve the great god, Consumption? He goes by many names, but you know who I mean. He’s the one that stole the Christian holiday and turned it into the economic backbone for the shopping industry. He’s the one that makes us sing about Emmanuel and Santa Claus back-to-back… the cathedral choir beside Mariah Carey. I think the season is confused enough and it’s time for something different.

In light of all of that I propose a new holiday season: The Hygge-days! OK, some of you will think I’m bandwagoning with this idea, jumping on an out-of-date hipster trend, and some will wonder if I’ve lost my mind and just making stuff up. To be clear, I don’t want to offend anyone by co-opting something from a culture different from my own, something that I don’t fully understand. But, in all honesty, needs must. I believe there are a tough few months on the horizon and I feel like this change for focus is something to aim for. Maybe call it something different, but I feel like there are some ideas here we all need here. Besides, our Scandinavian friend’s conistently rank at the top of the World Happiness Report rankings, so stealing a little of their reflected glow is all but required!

For those of you who don’t know, hygge, pronounced something akin to “hoo-guh” and definitely not my own invention, is a Scandinavian concept that is hard to explain but is generally associated with the feelings of coziness, contentment, and being happy in the moment. As hyggehouse.com has it, hygge, “is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special.” “Being content and happy isn’t just about your mood, but learning to accept the things you cannot change and loving what you already own. You may not live in a mansion, but you learn to be content with where you are in life right now,” says Tove Maren at mamainthenow.com.

An article on the SELF website relates the wisdom of hygge-ologist Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living, and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, has called this philosophy “the art of creating intimacy,” and “coziness of the soul,” saying it can be found in such things as “cocoa by candlelight.” One would imagine a fireside chat, a cup of something warming, and some wooly socks might be helpful as well. “The Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and well-being,” Wiking says. “We focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.”

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We are in the midst of hard times with more in the pipeline. We could certainly do with avoiding the Christmas blues, especially when money is tight and we are “distanced” from friends and family. We could certainly do worse than cultivating a mindset and a habit of taking joy in everyday life, in the small things, in simplicity and coziness. By golly, I think we could make a whole season out of it. It could feature long cold nights snuggled up inside, reading a good book, sipping a good drink. It could feature rich, simple food, prepared with the intention of enjoyment rather than spectacle. Hmm, it almost sounds like what the Holidays were supposed to be before consumerism got involved. Does anyone remember Thanksgiving before Black Friday?

So, what do you think? Anyone ready to start sending Happy Hygge-days cards? It might be just what we need in the times to come and why not start in October? Rather than moaning about the change in weather and the return of winter, let’s celebrate… cozily, for, like, months! Who’s with me?

I started this post with a vague song lyric and a mis-quote so I wanted to end with something better. So here are some October quotes I especially liked.

“October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.”

– Hal Borland

“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.”

– Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The end of the summer is not the end of the world. Here’s to October… “

– A.A. Milne

“October is about trees revealing colors they’ve hidden all year. People have an October as well.”

– JM Storm.

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