The old photograph above from the early 1900s captures the essence of what hygge (togetherness/coziness) is. My Danish mother-in-law found it in an antique store in a town called Ørbæk on the southern Danish island Funen where she is from. Growing up on a farm on Funen she experienced this kind of hygge herself. She told me that they used to get coffee and cake three times a day! First at 11 am they would have coffee and cake, then at 3 pm they would have coffee, cake and cookies and at 8 pm they would have coffee, cake and cookies again!! And they did not just eat a piece of cake while doing something else. No, the family would sit down together for coffee and cake three times daily and of course also for the three main meals! Imagine all this togetherness/hygge throughout the day? I cannot help but wonder how they found time for this but maybe that would be the case if we got rid of all electronics? I bet the total time we spend looking at electronic devices could sum up to three times coffee and cake in a day.
This tradition of coffee and cake three times daily is a special tradition from Funen called “Fynsk Kaffebord” (or “Coffee Table from Funen”) but in general Danes do practice a lot of hygge with coffee and cake together. I would say once a day is more like the general norm. Hygge time brings people together and is a very relaxing form of being together where you just enjoy the break, togetherness and cake and no one is forced to be super entertaining. It is ok just to “be”…
I do not know about you but I find it extremely hard, even on weekends, to find time for this kind of hygge. There is always something I feel like I should do. Sitting down like that seems like a luxury – on the other hand something tells me it is not a waste of time and might be part of the reason why Danes are happier than any other nationality. Much research has shown that strong social relations is one of the most important factors for health and happiness. In fact a study by Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill put data from 148 studies together and found that people with poor social ties had a 50 percent higher risk of dying earlier than people with strong social ties. This means that strong social ties are just as important for good health as not smoking and even more important than exercise (see also Alexander and Sandahl in The Danish Way of Parenting, p. 131). What a great excuse for coffee and cake together with family and friends!
I could keep looking at this old photograph… The big pear trees in front of the classic old farm, the nicely dressed men and women (probably two families) and what might be a maid pouring coffee from a white porcelain coffee pot. In front of them is a bowl of something. Is it the classic apple cake from Funen, lemon cake or the so-called “Dream Cake”? This makes me dream… The men are smoking pipes, drinking schnapps and coffee and even the two women are having schnapps with their coffee! Lets not forget this is the country of viking men and women. It is either mid- or late summer and they have moved their table out in the court yard.
I might be a stupid romantic but it makes me want to recreate the same kind of hygge and “kaffebord” (“coffee table”) outside in the summer and try to embrace the slower pace of the old days, a slower pace with room for hygge that Denmark seems to hold onto – although maybe not three times daily anymore… I cannot wait to bring some good old-fashioned Danish cake recipes ala “Fynsk kaffebord” to you and inspiration on how to arrange your own coffee table to get more hygge in your life! So there will be much more on the topic of “Coffee Table”, old Danish cake recipes and the happy and hyggelige Danish island of Funen to come on this blog. For how can I let go of this fabulous topic of coffee, cake and hygge…?