Cozy up and enjoy this seasonal reflection from Ryan Currie:

The New Yorker declared 2016 “The Year of Hygge”. I know, it’s 2018—leave it to church folks to get on trend two years late. ‘Hygge,’ for those who either missed it or already forgot, is a Danish word that doesn’t quite translate into English. When it was a finalist for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, they defined it as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” It’s been used to sell mittens, fondue pots, and chunky sweaters and to advertise AirBnB experiences from Hanoi to Portugal. Apparently the concept also leads to a troubling enthusiasm for alliteration: “cosiness and comfortable conviviality,” “Hanoi Hygge Homestay,” or “Hygge Between the Holidays,” a party that I was actually invited to—this year—by a church person! It was ridiculously wholesome, and I loved every second of it. The word has one delightful, precious, English cognate: “hug.”

Warm woolens and the overconsumption of dairy fit this Scandinavian brand in our imaginations because they’re wintry. And ever since I first heard the word and first saw the ads, I thought that you could only have this ‘hygge’ in wintertime. As a recent transplant to Minnesota from the Gulf Coast of Alabama—this is my first winter—pray for me—I’m all for staying inside by a nice fire and warming beverages with my loved ones, watching Netflix and playing hymns on the piano. If this is what ‘hygge’ is, I am here for it. (Although I have my limits: see tater-tot hot dish.)

Pictured: a free usage search result for both “hygge” and “Advent”

Here’s where ‘hygge’ relates most obviously to Advent—or at least, how Advent is supposed to be. Advent is when the church waits: waits for the coming of Jesus in the Incarnation at Christmas, in his coming in judgment and glory at the Last Day, and in his coming into our hearts. So, while we wait, Christians like to get cozy. We set up an Advent calendar of cozy little treats, try to stay home and avoid the mad rush of shopping, maybe take on a special new devotion or discipline. The ideal Advent seems to me to look a lot like ‘hygge’ advertisement photos: one endless snow day where we can catch up on our devotional reading while the cider mulls, make Etsy-worthy presents for our relatives, and get a head-start on the Christmas baking. Menfolk might whittle more farm animals for the creche and grow out their beards.

The church—following on the season’s scriptural themes—describes Advent in terms of darkness, which makes sense. The days are getting shorter. We drink our cocoa by the dim candlelight of our Advent wreaths. Some say Advent ought to be a penitential season, a quasi-Lent in which we meditate on the so-called Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell, three of which do make me want to curl up in a fetal ball with a weighted blanket over me. I guess there’s something cozy in that? But—in spite of the mass-marketed imagery of Advent—mine is mostly characterized by a mild case of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and continued mental and social busy-ness. At just the time when ‘hygge’ seems the most needful and the most seasonally appropriate, it can be hard to find.

A few months ago, I had the chance to ask two real life Danes about their national concept. My family’s high-school exchange student and yearly visitor, Nico—known affectionately as “Summer Son” or “Summer Brother”—was introducing us to his girlfriend, Camilla. They joined us at a jungle-bound cottage on Mobile Bay where we spent a long weekend fishing, chasing dolphins, and eating shrimp. The big excitement was my actual biological brother’s new boat.

Pictured: “new” boat with spray-painted camo and unique, “artisan” rig for spearing gators or something. “Look at those lights,” my brother had texted me wistfully, “just think of the candlepower.”

Nico is a pilot and lover of a certain brand of southern culture, so he was totally onboard with skimming around the Redneck Riviera in this thing. Camilla, on the other hand, was in the United States for the first time. It’s perhaps not an unnatural progression to be introduced to our country in this way—Times Square, the Lincoln Memorial, the World of Coke in Atlanta, the defiance of both natural and man-made laws of marine transport with a Cajun Navy reject as skipper—but it is a little accelerated. I watched as Camilla timidly agreed to take the spot at the front of the boat—so they wouldn’t flip backwards, my brother told her—and white-knuckle the steel bars around her. I helped the three of them push off and said a prayer that this daughter of Vikings would be borne along by memories of her seafaring ancestors.

Hours later, they returned. They had been delayed by one of the fantastic storms that sweep over the Gulf Coast during our late summer monsoon, but it had apparently been a good trip. “We only ran aground three times,” my brother said with a look of unadulterated joy. Both Danes were looking a bit crispy from the sun, but their faces shone with exhilaration and satisfaction.

That night, after the old folks had gone to bed, I sat around listening to music with my brother, Nico, and Camilla, in a screened-in porch below the house, occasionally picking at the remains of our shrimp boil or fetching another beer. It was hot—like Alabama in August hot. Maybe it was the appeal of cold-weather thoughts, or maybe I was trying to show off my profound understanding of Danish culture, but I decided to ask about ‘hygge.’

“What?” said Nico.

“What?” said Camilla.

“You know, hygge, like cozy.”

“Oh,” said Camilla, who then rattled off an unintelligible string of Danish at Nico. You could almost picture the ä’s and the ø’s. They were confused because I had pronounced it wrong. (The correct pronunciation is almost exactly like how Americans say hookah.)

“Anyway, it’s like a winter-time thing, right? You stay inside and drink hot chocolate and play board games and stuff,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, maybe,” said Camilla.

“That could be it,” said Nico. “But it’s not just that. It’s much more than that. It can happen anytime.”

“Yeah,” said Camilla, “like you might feel it with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone you love.”

“Today, on the boat,” said Nico, “that was hygge.”

I was incredulous. No one would wear mittens on a homemade camo boat in August, nor would they lunch on fondue in a swamp.

Nico continued. “Hygge is when you share something with people. Like, today, when the three of us on the boat just looked around at each other and laughed. No one needed to tell a joke or do anything funny. We just laughed because there we were, together, like all three of us falling in love or something. It’s like, you realize, I belong here, with you, and you belong with me,” he said, gesturing with his index finger. Camilla and my brother watched him and nodded with calm, knowing smiles.

Hygge, I found out, is not just a cold-weather phenomenon. It can happen in the bright sunlight of summertime and exists even in Hanoi. The same is true of Advent. Our Lord comes in darkness, true, but also in all times and in all places. Put on your fuzzy slippers and melt the gruyere, by all means, but Jesus’ comfort is warmer, brighter, and lovelier than the coziest of December staycations.

Jesus has been in love with you since before the foundation of the world, and you belong with him whether your Advent is filled with books and knitting or a mad scramble to get your kids through an airport security line, whether your candlepower comes from a seasonal wreath or a souped-up jon-boat. Maybe you don’t get candles or coziness at all with your retail job or the onslaught of social obligations. Maybe the holidays make you anxious and depressed. Maybe you just aren’t the type to sit still. You still belong to Jesus, who is constantly coming in for a bear hug of welcome into his eternal hygge.