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Are you ready to embrace winter, get intentional with your holiday season, and be all about that hygge (the Danish season of cozy contentment)? Me too! Winter is one of my favorite seasons and I want to help you fall in love with it, so I’m giving you my top 10 tips for winning at winter. Let’s celebrate winter solstice!
1 Light Fires
Is there anything cozier than a warm fire on a cold night? Fires in the fireplace, bon fires outdoors, and candles on the table are all ways to bring the element of fire into your life during this season and warm your heart along with your hands.
While we are eating a late dinner on the deck each night of summer, we are gathered early around a dining table of lit candles in winter, and I love both seasonal traditions equally. When I found I was avoiding my living room as the temperature dropped, we even built ourselves a faux fireplace with an electric heating insert that changed everything for how grounded and cozy I felt in our space (you can see a photo of it here on Instagram). Just last night we were attending our neighborhood’s beach bonfire, pier tree lighting, and lighthouse caroling event. Heck, I would even include my twinkle lights in this category. It’s all about holding the light in your life during the darkness of winter.
2 Gather with People
Your people are an integral ingredient to wellness in the winter that is frequently overlooked. Connection is lifeblood for humans—even introverts. I’m a big proponent of saying no to any people and events that don’t add to your peace and joy, especially to people and things that feel obligatory, but we say no to who and what doesn’t matter so that we can say yes to who and what does. What setting and style of connection feels good for you? What people make you smile? Maybe you need a weekly tea on the calendar with your girlfriend. Perhaps a monthly book club. Maybe it’s a rubbish dinner party (a la Lucy from the Community episode of the Sage Family Podcast). Whatever form it takes, you need to counteract the passive isolation of winter by gathering with your people.
3 Share Food
Warm comfort foods and hot drinks reign supreme in the slow, cold months. We’re all about smoothies and grazing in the summer but winter calls for heavy soups and teas. The food is richer and slower. When you’re gathering with your people, do it around the table. It’s also a time for turning to food as medicine. Tune into your body and mind and give yourself what you need. Herbs can invite in rich smells and tastes along with supplementation for things like Vitamin D that you may be missing in the sun’s absence.
4 Bring in Nature
Holiday décor is the most obvious context for inviting nature into your home in the form of an evergreen tree, but it can go even deeper than that. Forgo plastic figurines in favor of evergreen sprigs and cinnamon sticks. In addition to bringing nature inside, bring yourself outside! The quote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad dress,” is gospel around here. Layer into as much fleece as you need, wrap yourself in a water proof shell, and get out there to dance with Jack Frost. Take a nature hike and collect sticks that you twine into a star to celebrate the long nights and the twinkling light.
5 Have Rituals
Perhaps you inherited some beautiful traditions that you love to carry on. Maybe you fell into your own seasonal rituals as family life unfolded. Possibly you’re searching for some intentional ceremonies or practices based on your values. Or all of the above. Research shows that the specific traditions matter less than the having of traditions. So embrace whatever feels right for your family (and let go of whatever doesn’t) and bring a little more ritual into your season.
One of my favorites is the Winter Spiral, which my dear friend hosts and invites us to every year on Winter Solstice (you can see a picture here on instagram). She creates a big spiral out of evergreen sprigs with a lit candle in the center—a symbol of life in the dead of winter. A story is read and then everyone takes a turn, youngest to oldest, walking in silence into the spiral while thinking on something they want to release from the previous year, lighting their individual candle in the center, and walking out of the spiral thinking on something they want to invite in for the new year, placing their candle somewhere along the spiral as they move through it. It’s a celebration of the quiet and the sharing of the light, of reflection and intention. Then we all share warm drinks and sweet treats potluck style.
6 Read Stories
In Denmark, the land of hygge, it is traditional to gift books for the holiday season. While gifting antique pages is a romantic image, my modern interpretation revolves more around reading ebooks through my library app. But the moral remains, winter is a time to celebrate the stories! While screens tend to get a bad rap, they are a medium for celebrating stories too! Audio books, paperbacks, movies (all the Hallmark Christmas movies, please), poetry, music (so much music playing from the Bluetooth speaker, instruments, and voices in our house this season)—all good. We have a special set of winter picture books that I bring out and display around the house like seasonal décor that get pulled into our bedtime read aloud (last night we enjoyed Owl Moon followed by Percy Jackson, then the Braiding Sweetgrass audio book).
So the shortest day came, and the year died,The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
7 Get Cozy
Soft blankets, knit sweaters, thick socks—I’m all about it and you should be too. This season is an excuse to basically wrap yourself in a layer of bedding all day long. What’s not to love about that! As I type this I’m wearing a sweatshirt dress, fleece leggings, fuzzy socks, vivobarefoot booties, and a knit beanie with a blanket in my lap and a pillow behind me. Did I even get out of bed this morning? I can’t tell.
Spread the cozy around your house in addition to wrapping it around your body: extra pillows on the sofa and throw blankets on arm chairs. This is fort and landing pad season in my house, when my kids pull out extra mattresses, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and wrestling mats and build dens, stair slides, and every manner of cushioning to soften the landing of their rambunctious indoor escapades.
8 Give to Others
This is obviously the season of giving—not a mind-blowing revelation there. But I want to invite you to think outside the present box to incorporating a broader generosity and kindness to others in this season. Part of the nature of winter is that we are set up to rely on each other more than in other seasons. Our evolutionary biology senses that food is scarce and we’re cut off from resources so we’re a little more open to reaching out for and/or with help. Lean into that. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on obligation gifts to fit into the mainstream consumerist culture, pay for the meal of the table next to you, pass out extra blankets to people living on the street, offer to babysit for a friend, bring a sick loved one a homemade meal.
Though not officially a part of winter, one of our family traditions is to make twice as much food as we need for Thanksgiving dinner and then pass out plates of our hot, home cooked feast to the homeless around our town. It’s a tradition that my children treasure and truly look forward to all year long.
Spring may be the season for cleaning (open the windows, air out the rooms, shake out the rugs, and spray off the grime) but winter is the season of decluttering. The hibernation of winter connects you with your home more deeply and provides the perfect opportunity to let go of all the things that are no longer serving you. Clean out those closets, empty those drawers, and donate everything you’re ready to release. Also, binge watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
There tends to be a lot of hype around New Year’s Resolutions, which research shows are about as effective as wishing on a star. But we are craving a moment of pause on the journey to look back at where we’ve been, consolidate the lessons learned, and calibrate our compasses. Journaling can provide just that.
Reflect on the last year: What are you grateful for? What did you love? What felt meaningful? How did you grow? What did you learn? What are you proud of?
Reflect on the coming year: What do you want to release? What do you want to add? How can you better meet your needs? What experiences do you want to have? What do you want to try? What do you want to practice? What do you want to learn? How do you hope to grow?
Or just free write. Studies show great outcomes across a variety of metrics when researchers do little more than put a journal and pen in someone’s hands. There’s no wrong way to do it—an easy win.
Can you feel the cozy contentment wrapping around your shoulders like a soft blanket? Ya you can. Let’s embrace winter this year. Let’s get intentional with our holiday season. Let’s lean into the hygge. Cheers!
If you want more wintery inspiration, then listen to the new Simple Holidays episode of the Sage Family Podcast.