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It's time for Melburnians to embrace 'hygge'

Melbourne has had the coldest start to winter since 1982, and as June continues, things are not looking up. Alpine regions are being covered in snow, and down the mountains there's cold and rain and misery. At least some of that misery, though, is of our own making.

Danish-Australian Charlotte Thaarup is a proponent of the Danish concept of Hygge.

Danish-Australian Charlotte Thaarup is a proponent of the Danish concept of Hygge.

It's sometimes hard to imagine, but by global standards Melbourne's winter temperatures are mild. I once recounted a bone-achingly cold day to someone. "I was so freezing," I told them. They asked me, precisely, how cold it was. "I don't know," I responded, "like 9 or something?" This person, I soon found out, had grown up in Canada. They laughed and said my story was "cute".

Why are we so cold when it's not that cold? The answer is in a uniquely Australian sense of delusion about the weather. We know it's a warm country, so few of us invest in adequate insulation or double-glazed window panes, or even on windows that properly fit the pane so as to prevent draughts. Some of us don't invest in heating at all. When I worked at a customer service desk in retail, I needed a little space heater next to me in order to be able to feel my toes. The store was big and had very few heating ducts, and the electric doors were constantly shuttering open and letting in gusts of cold air. The result of all our terrible winter infrastructure is that when it does get mildly cold (which happens literally every year) we're more likely to feel it constantly, even inside. Then we complain about it as though it's on par with an Arctic freeze.

There's also that specific type of Australian who grits their teeth once the cold sets in, refusing to get cold. This is the person who doesn't even own a winter coat, and who wears shorts and thongs year-round. This person is emblematic of how Australia is seen – laid back, unbothered, not at all cold. But at some point we have to realise that this is not how Australia always is and allow ourselves to buy a lovely scarf.

Recently, Scandinavian design has come into vogue, and with it the Danish concept of "hygge". You can buy an assortment of books about it and how to incorporate hygge in your life and decor. Hygge essentially means "cosiness". It's about rugging up inside in front of the fireplace, it's talking with friends over a hardy calorie-dense meal, it's lighting candles to create your own light in the dark winter. Hygge – and equivalent concepts in other Scandinavian languages – is the reason why Nordic folk are still happy even if it's minus 20. Because it's understood that cold isn't something that should make you miserable, but rather an opportunity for polar fleece and hot chocolate.

There's nothing much we can do about the changes of the season. But we can take inspiration from the infrastructure and mindsets of colder climates to make winter a more pleasant experience. We will never be comfortable with the cold, though, unless we accept that it is, in fact, cold, and that these icy spells require preparation and perspective.

Erin Stewart is an Age columnist.

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