The winters here in Alberta are bitter long. Daylight hours are rare and bright, darkness stretching languidly onward from 4 in the afternoon to 9 in the morning. The winter air shocks the lungs and stings the skin, forms tiny icicles in our eyelashes and beards. Snow blankets our houses and trees, our windows frost over, and a stark, monochrome beauty overtakes the world.

The Scandinavians know the darkness well. In true northern fashion, they’ve made friends with Old Man Winter, and welcome his endless nights and brutal cold with open arms. Through the practice of hygge, our Nordic friends while away the winters without a care.

Hygge, loosely translated, means comfort, camaraderie, and well-being. It’s coziness, and it’s how we keep the winter blues at bay. Easier said than done, right? Well, I’ve compiled a list of super easy ways to embrace our dark, cold winters and make the best of them.

COMFORT
1. Set the mood at home. Soft, low lighting is incredibly soothing, and a nice change if you work in a brightly fluorescent office all day. String fairy lights, light giant beeswax candles, throw a sheer scarf over your bedside lamp. Don’t try to chase away the darkness, but embrace it instead.

2. Slip on a pair of shearling moccasins or thick woolen socks to wear around the house. So much cozier than a pair of regular socks or bare feet.

3. Pick up a new winter hobby. Knitting and crocheting are incredibly relaxing, and after a few sessions you’ll even have a scarf to keep you warm!

CAMARADERIE
1. Have your pals over for no particular reason. You don’t need an occasion to mull some wine, pop some popcorn, and break out Cards Against Humanity. Fill your home with laughter and warmth- invite a few people over for a movie, for brownie baking, for a board game.

2. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. I truly believe that humans are helpful and productive creatures by nature, and it does the soul good to help out where help is needed. Volunteer for your local women’s shelter, put in hours at a teen hotline, walk dogs at the humane society, bake cookies for the homeless shelter.

3. Research your family lineage! Believe me – it’s actually pretty fun discovering quirky ancestors and  delving into ancient family scandals. Call your grandfather and talk about his life and his experiences, ask about his parents and grandparents and what they were like, and write it all down in a beautiful leather-bound journal to pass down to your eventual descendants. It’s such a lovely bonding experience and it will probably mean a lot to your family members, too.

WELL-BEING
1. Make and eat a lot of homemade, seasonal, and healthy food. Holiday baking, candy, takeout food, and liquor are no substitute for homemade stews, soups, roasted root vegetables, bright mandarin oranges, local ethically-raised meat, and grain-and-seed studded loaves. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence, but pairing it with hearty seasonal fare will ensure that you feel energetic and healthy throughout the dark months, instead of sluggish and bloated all the time.

2. Exercise! There are so many winter activities that we do as kids that we never do as adults – skating, sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, winter hiking, a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Get your blood pumping in the cold or hide away in a hot yoga studio. Do something that makes you feel good, don’t lock yourself away in a gym if that’s not what you’re into. Exercise should be fun and rewarding, not a duty.

3. Relaxation. Probably the most neglected component of health and well-being is the importance of relaxation. Take a long, steamy bath with epsom salts and eucalyptus leaves, tuck a sprig of lavender into your pillow, ban your computer from your bed and wind down with a book and a cup of chamomile tea. Trade massages with your partner, spend some time just stretching and meditating. Make time to relax, even if you don’t think you can squeeze it in. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.