How Norwegians Taught Me to Survive Winter

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Freezing temperatures are still foreign for me, a Los Angeles native transplanted in Denver, even though we’re heading into our second winter here in Colorado. We had a blizzard warning last night, delayed starts at work today. This morning I pull on a second pair of socks, stir some peanut butter into my oatmeal, add some cream to my tea. As I settle into the morning quiet, I revel in the warm comforts in my possession—the socks, the oatmeal, the tea—and feel a tiny prayer of thankfulness unfold its wings and flit around my heart. Nostalgia comes swooping in, as well, and I relish memories of my first real winter: the year I spent in Norway.

Before that, I always dreaded winter. My shoulders slumped when I saw it coming around the golden corner that is autumn; I shuffled toward Christmas just knowing that soon January would be cold (for Los Angeles, that means dipping into the 50s) and possibly even wet. But Norwegians taught me to cope with winter and to surround myself with little cozy comforts to carry me through.

When I arrived in Norway in mid-August of 2008, I had a small dark cloud of foreboding in my heart, knowing winter would overtake us. By the first day of September the whole countryside I called home declared the end of summer, and it was a quick slide into colder temperatures and shorter days as we hurtled toward winter’s dark. Once October rolled around, the average temperature was lower than on L.A.’s coldest January days. I told my friends, “Every single day here I’m experiencing the coldest cold of my life!”

The Norwegians I lived with laughed at my dramatics, but still they patiently taught me to deal with winter—even to love it a little bit—through their culture’s concept of koselig (pronounced koosh-lay). Not one Norwegian could give me a literal translation, simply because koselig is a uniquely Norwegian way of being. Koselig means candles and warmth, waffles and times of togetherness with people you love. It is hot drinks and rich cakes and fuzzy sweaters and your favorite scarf. Candles are essential to the koselig vibe, and to Norwegian winter life—they transform the long darkness into small celebrations. Norwegians find reasons to love winter, because they must endure it for so long.

Once during my year in Norway, in mid-December, I was with friends and pulled a small bottle of coconut-scented lotion from my purse. One person remarked how it smelled like summer, but another told me to put it away. “It is not summer time!” he mock-scolded me. “It is koselig time. It is time for candles and cinnamon and koselig things, not coconut and summer things. Ugh.” His reaction helped me to see just how much Norwegians immerse themselves in the koselig time of winter, lowering into it like a warm bath. It is not time for sun and fair breezes and trips to the lake. If you’re looking for a way to survive this winter, take a page from the Norwegians’ book: light a candle and give thanks for its light, bake some cookies to share with friends, wrap your chilly hands around a warm mug of milky tea. It’s koselig time.


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