It’s been a shitty year, if I’m honest, so how does one pretend it’s a normal happiness we’re wishing each other this year? “Happy Holidays!” I sing out to various neighbors and acquaintances but it’s a kind of forced cheerfulness since what I’ve been feeling is something else. If I’m honest, the usual happiness is not a real option.
“If I’m honest” is a phrase I’ve picked up from watching endless episodes of The Great British Baking Show. It’s a great way of cutting through those dissonant situations when you want to be polite but reality is just too rude for the usual niceties.
In my translation, “if I’m honest” is British for “I don’t want to be an obvious asshole (since that would not be British) but I am forced to say that, at a purely hypothetical level, this object/condition/situation could be considered by someone, somewhere as really, unbelievably, almost unbearably awful.”
As in, “If I’m honest, your creme patissiere has curdled, your gingerbread tastes like cardboard, and all your tarts have soggy bottoms.”
Or, “If I’m honest, your president is a dangerous imbecile, your tax bill is a blatant giveaway to the rich, and your holiday greetings sound like nails on a chalkboard.”
So I’m casting around for some other way of wishing, some other way of feeling the holidays this year. And I think I’m not alone in this. I mean, did you see how the first lady decorated the White House for Christmas?
It certainly looks like she’s feeling some kind of dissonance. Other commentators have remarked on the ‘spookiness’ of the hallway lined in bare, white (dead?) trees. To me, as holiday decor, the whole effect is really, unbelieveably, almost unbearably cold. Watching her stride down the hallway in those drafty, bell-shaped sleeves, I just want to say, FLOTUS, sweetie, put on a sweater! And maybe some long johns under that long chiffon tutu.
The icy austerity of her decor may be an elegant reflection of the predicament that Melania finds herself in at this point in her life. And come to think of it, we’re all in that same predicament. A brittle-cold reality that we’re forced to endure for (at least) three more years. Artfully rendered as…a Winter Wonderland! In the sense that we wonder if we can get through the winter without giving up on this American experiment and going back to Slovenia (or whatever nicer place our people originally came from).
But this is not the Winter Wonderland my daughter keeps singing about. In the song, the snow is glistenin’ and it’s a beautiful sight (just like the White House, if I’m honest), but also in the song (crucially, insistently) “We’re happy tonight!” That seems key. Here’s the part of the song I like best:
Later on, we’ll conspire as we dream by the fire
to face unafraid the plans that we’ve made
walkin’ in a winter wonderland.
Because after you’ve been outside frolicking in the snow, making all kinds of reckless promises to snowmen, nothing is better than coming inside, peeling off all those ice-encrusted layers of thinsulate and smart-wool and putting on your fluffy fleece pants with the candy canes all over. And kicking up your Fairisle-encased feet in front of a blazing fire. With snifter of something indisputably cheerful. And then, just….conspiring.
I think it’s called “hygge,” this feeling I’m going for. Pronounced “hooguh,” it’s a Danish term meaning “coziness” and apparently the Danes cannot get enough of it. Deep in the thick of a frigid Scandinavian winter, they love to don their comfy pants (hyggebukser), eat their cardomom buns, and sip their cherry glogg in front of the fire—alone or in small groups. It’s all about creating beautiful, intimate moments to savor and share. They do this despite (because of) the long, dull month-upon-month of monotonous winter.
Many years ago, after the end of the Cold War, there was public discussion about what to do with the so-called “peace dividend,” the money we were going to save because we didn’t have to fake-fight the Russians anymore. A good friend of mine (Natasha Gray) told me that the Dems should run a presidential candidate under the slogan, “Let’s Get Cozy!” Meaning, let’s use the money to do all kinds of socially nurturing things like good healthcare and quality education.
Now that’s Hygge. And it’s also very Danish. But alas, it’s not the reality we currently inhabit. But it’s worth conspiring about….
So Hooguh Holidays! Because that’s what I wish for you, all of you. Don’t worry if you’re not feeling unambiguously “happy” this year. Put on your comfy pants. Light a fire in the fireplace. Add some candles here and there. Invite people over (and tell them to wear their comfy pants). Bake something and share it. Make those beautiful, intimate moments.
And don’t forget to conspire.