It’s undeniable. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a huge hit at Saint Brendan. Over the last five weeks, we have been talking and writing about this beautiful Danish word that has become all the rage around the world, and I keep hearing echoes of how well-accepted it has become among us. People mention it on the way in or out of church, write about it in emails, and send pictures as examples.
The word hygge roughly translates to comfort, coziness, and warmth. If you’ve been a little lax about church attendance or reading the bulletin, here’s what hygge is. Picture this: a cold, dark, and snowy night outside in the bleak mid-winter; you’re warm and dry inside, with close friends gathered in front of a roaring fire under snuggly blankets, sipping hot spiced wine (Glögg), wearing thick winter socks, while small candles light the cozy little living space. That’s hygge.
The Christmas season evokes images of comfort, warmth, and togetherness, and God comforts his people during this darkest time of the year with the knowledge that the eternal Word, the Son of God, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), which brings hope to the human spirit for a better world. That’s spiritual hygge, which we can only recognize when we slow down, prepare our homes and hearts and make space for prayer, loosen the control over our lives a bit and surrender it to God, and try to offer spiritual comfort to other people by making room for them.
The Church around the world today celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We hold them up each year as the model of an ideal family: Joseph protected his family; Mary committed her whole life to her Son from manger to cross; and Jesus respected and obeyed his parents.
As with any model, however, the exemplar can leave the rest of us feeling a little “less than.” Many of us, including myself, come from dysfunctional or so-called “broken” families. Many kids who come for the sacrament of reconciliation confess family quarrels, fighting with siblings, and disrespecting their parents. I have seen families ripped apart because adult children fight over an inheritance, couples are unfaithful to one another, rank marital strife infects the home, or a spouse suffers from mental illness or a substance abuse problem. Indeed, comfort within our own families can sometimes be the hardest form of hygge to find.
I offer the same advice I give to children in reconciliation. Remember that God gave you your family, for better or worse, and your role in the family is ordained by God. It is not accidental. Live up to it. As Saint Paul says, “bear with one another.” Forgive injuries, overlook insults, and bind up wounds. Don’t try to change people in your family, but appreciate them for the unique person that they have become. Be grateful for the family you have because it’s the only one you will ever have, and when you can’t be with your family because of serious abuse or geography, find a surrogate one and “love the one[s] you’re with.”
Father Roger Gustafson