Winter is just around the corner, and for most people in four-season states, that means a lot of indoor time. With this year’s quarantine and social distancing restrictions, it also means an even more curtailed social life than usual.
As an introvert, I’m not altogether dreading this. I, like so many of my millennial peers, am all about the hygge lifestyle and am a bit excited about making this winter the hygge-iest yet!
We’ve been enamored of the Scandinavian concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) for several years now. Its cozy minimalism has come to reshape our aesthetic sensibilities: from home style to street style to social media style, well-lighted (sun-washed during the day, candle-warm at night), clean-lined, natural vibes are the “it” look.
But hygge isn’t actually an aesthetic concept primarily: it’s a lifestyle, a habit of being. Hygge is about creating a home space that engenders a feeling of contentment and wellbeing, of comfort, of integrity to the self, of connection with one’s community and with the world. It’s about having a home where your friends feel at home—with you, with each other, with themselves. As Meik Wiking puts it in his Little Book of Hygge:
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life—or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company—or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.
This all sounds wonderful, but as anyone who has spent a winter cooped up with family or roommates knows, it’s pretty difficult to maintain this excitement about the people you live in community with, especially when you have almost nowhere to go. Frustrations can build up, often because we’re simply dissatisfied with the relationships under our roof: we feel like we don’t have anything to talk about anymore, and we can sometimes channel that into fighting or venting.
Relationships need to be kept fresh. People talk about this in dating relationships all the time—it’s the reason those “questions for couples” books exist, and the reason there are hundreds of lists online for “fun things to do on dates”: to give you conversation starters or idea for activities that push you past the limits of what you already know so you can know each other more deeply. When you’re in a stable dating relationship, you share so much together that the relationship can stagnate or become superficial. As you grapple with the mundane things of everyday life, you can forget how much you still don’t know the other and you can lose sight of the things outside your relationship that drew you to each other in the first place.
The same is true of friendships. When you’re keeping your social network small, it’s increasingly important to find activities to do that keep things fresh. And as winter approaches and we look ahead to an increasingly closed-in lifestyle, it will be even more of a challenge to do so! Since your normal go-tos for winter fun may not be available this winter, here are some ideas for ways to keep your friendships alive and thriving through the cold months.
01. Host a soup fest.
This is riffing on the classic fall chili fest—not that there’s anything wrong with chili, but personally I can only have so much before my tastebuds are just chili-ed out. But I love a good soup—and winter soups can be so diverse! There are several ways you could run this. You could have everyone bring their favorite soup and do a small-bites taste-testing. You could also have everyone make variations of the same soup (my girlfriends and I are scheming a butternut squash soup night).
If any of your friends are bakers, this is a great opportunity for them to showcase their bread making skills—nothing says winter comfort food like a hot bowl of soup and a fresh loaf of bread. If you’re really feeling the cook-off vibe, you could have a prize for the winner (a bottle of wine opened on the spot and shared with the crew seems like the most fun version of this, in my opinion!)
02. Plan a movie series.
Watching a film together can be a great way to deepen friendships. The conversation after-the-fact will likely bring up parts of your friends you didn’t know about before. But an ad hoc movie night can be tough. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been hanging with friends and someone says vaguely “we could watch a movie!” Cue 30+ minutes of browsing, chatting and wasted time, usually leading to someone saying, “It’s actually a bit late for a movie, isn’t it?”—and there goes the night.
Avoid this “what should we watch” stalling by putting together a list of movies you and your friends want to watch. When the moment is right, instead of wasting time browsing, just pick one from your list. You could even have a standing movie night on the calendar (once a month?) and just see who shows up. Worst case scenario, you watch a great film with your cat instead of binge-watching your favorite sitcom for the twelfth time.
03. Rediscover board games.
I know this isn’t a novel idea for many readers, but I’ve never really been a board game person. Growing up my mother always tried to rally us to play, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I was the most resistant participant. But games in general are a great way to spend time with people you already know really well. They’re shared experiences that can inspire conversations you haven’t had yet.
In the early months of COVID, I rediscovered lawn games. I can’t tell you how many afternoons I’ve spent at the park playing games like bocce and corn hole. As the weather gets colder and it becomes increasingly unfeasible to continue to spend social time outdoors, invest in some new board games (or check in with your friends to build a group “game catalog” of things you already own!) Putting this on the calendar as a standing event can help save you from the feeling of shut-in and shut-down that winter can bring.
04. Bring the winery to you.
Most tasting rooms are closed throughout the country, even in places where weather would allow them to stay open normally. So my friends and I are planning to finally execute one of our “wouldn’t it be fun if” ideas and host our own wine tasting night. There are lots of ideas for how to do to this—but the main idea is to make your home a destination. Take the time to educate yourselves about the wine tasting process. And if you don’t want to do a full tasting experience, you could try “wine pairings,” where you build a dinner menu around wines suited to each dish.
05. Plan a progressive dinner party.
Hosting a full-on dinner party for your friends can be a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work (and it can be expensive!). So if you’re wanting to build a reliable calendar of social events, a progressive dinner party is a great alternative. Basically you team up with a few households and each house prepares one stage of the meal: cocktails + appetizers in Place A, main course in Place B, dessert + coffee + digestifs in Place C. (You could even break down the “main course” into a soup/salad course followed by a true main course if you really want to extend the evening.)
This is a leisurely way of enjoying your time together in a purposeful way. It also incorporates a bit of “sight seeing” as you progress from place to place. Ideally you’d do this with friends who live within walking distance of you, because this makes the evening more practical.
06. Take an online class together.
This may sound like work, but if you find something you’re collectively interested in, this can be tons of fun. Whether you actually sign up for a course through your local community college or simply sign up for something like Masterclass, this can be a great way to deepen friendships. In a time when we’re increasingly limited in what we can do and experience, studying something together can help you tap back into the outside world and keep your friendships outward-facing.
Winter is long—it’s always longer than I think it will be—and this year it’s likely to feel lonelier than ever. So get ahead of things by pulling together your friends and committing to maintaining and deepening those friendships in the months to come. You’ll emerge out of your collective hibernation ready for the spring world of activity!