Hygge at home

Hygge at home? What Winter means to our culturally diverse librarians.

Now that Matariki has risen and marked the beginning of the Māori New Year, we find ourselves well and truly in mid-winter here in Aotearoa. Check out our fabulous Matariki resources and blogs to prolong the New Year’s festivities and celebrations.

Every whānau has their own winter traditions and celebrations. I asked my fellow Cultural Ambassadors in the Library network what winter means to them. From Poland to China, Mexico to Australia, read all about carps in the bathtub, rainy season and snow fights, lucky dumplings and chocolate letters.

Two main themes seem to pop up in common: we indulge in typical winter kai and we enjoy that cosy or Hygge winter feeling.

Susan, The Netherlands

CoverWhen I think of winters in The Netherlands, I think of St Nicolas’ Celebrations on December 5th which would bring my sisters and me heaps of presents, ginger nut cookies and chocolate letters. Christmas was sometimes white, always full of whanau visits but never about presents back then.

I also think about ice-skating on the ponds in our village and cycling to University of Amsterdam in wet weather gear holding an umbrella, whilst trying to avoid tram tracks and tourists.

Winter to me is synonym to the most famous Dutch word: ‘gezellig’, which is hard to describe in English but means a mixture of cosy and inviting. It applies to both people and spaces. I guess it is the Dutch equivalent of ‘hygge’.

My favourite Winter Read is the historical roman ‘Rode Sneeuw in December by Simone van der Vlugt. It is set in 1552 at the eve of the Eighty Years’ War and includes a love story, family drama, Protestantism vs Catholicism as well as the personal physician of Price William of Orange.  After visiting Te Mata Hapuku (aka Birdlings Flat) recently, my current favourite children Winter Read is The Stolen Stars of Matariki by Miriama Kamo.

Tianwen, Northern China

Winter means Spring Festival to me as it’s always winter time in northern China where I grew up. The streets would be full of joyful redness, red banners, red lanterns, red couplets, etc., and greetings of Happy New Year could be heard everywhere. Happiest time for children. My sister and I used to dress in our new clothes, with pockets full of lollies and snacks, running and laughing with other children in the crackling sounds and burning smell of fire crackers (banned now due to air pollution). If it snowed, it would be a must to make snow man and have snow fight. I also enjoyed the swooshing sound of walking on new and airy snow and would leave my foot prints everywhere. When finally going home with dirty hands and clothes and shining happy faces from the play, we had hot delicious food ready for us, especially boiled dumplings. Those old and good memories always linger on my mind. Winter brings home more “Hygge”.

I prefer to read a book of ancient Chinese poems in winter, especially from poets of Tang Dynasty. I always indulge myself in thinking and imagination while reading the words. It makes time still.

Beata, Poland

WINTER – X-mas with the carp in the bathtub.
Yes, no mistake here. Before 1989 Poland has struggled in many ways. Lack of luxurious food, such as meat or fish was not unusual. X-mas Eve is the most cultivated celebration, where 12 meatless dishes are supposed to be served at the table. The carp, was at that time, the most popular one.
But you could not just go to the shop and buy it. It was an adventure.
“Hey, the carps are on sale!” the neighbour was pretty vocal (and proud!) showing the one glorious fish in his bucket. An achievement after hours of standing in a long queue.
The fate of the carp, in short:
Being a family pet for few days (until Xmas Eve exactly), swimming in the bathtub transformed into temporary aquarium.
Please, do not ask if anyone from the family had shower or not.
The answer is simple.
I am not going to go through the process, how this pet ended on the plate.
Nevertheless, having a carp in the bathtub was magical.
And this only could happened during a winter.

Tomo, Japan

CoverWhen I think of winter in Japan, I think of relaxing in a warm Kotatsu (a low table with a special futon placed over it, with an electric heater attached beneath), snacking on Satsuma mandarins and rice crackers, while sipping a cup of hot green tea. The culmination of wintertime in Japan comes on the New Year’s Eve, on which we spend time with family like how we do in New Zealand. People tend to stay up late to check out special TV programmes and count down to the New Year.

A novel that comes to my mind with a theme of winter is Norwegian Wood. It was my first introduction to Haruki Murakami’s world, in which I spent large part of my university days reading the rest of his books, often resulting in procrastination on assignments. In the book, the protagonist Toru recalls his days as a young student and his love affair with the beautiful but damaged Naoko, who committed suicide after unsuccessful treatment at the mental institution, surrounded by snow-blanketed woods.

Anna, Mainland China

CoverWhen I think of the winters in Mainland China, I think of 3 days train trips over Chinese New Year to visit my grandparents. It was warm in train compartments, while the world was white looking out of the window. My father and I marked our locations on a map and created a route, which was a long one to Dalian, where my grandparents lived.

I also think about my grandma’s smile and grandpa's sled. My grandma always prepared dumplings upon our arrival. She smiled when I bit the dumpling with lucky coin in it which she arranged for me. After having my grandma's dumplings, I was allowed to play the sled, which my grandpa made for me, on the creek of Dalian Maritime University.

My favourite winter movie is Eat Drink Man Woman, a comedy-drama, directed by Ang Lee, the famous Taiwanese filmmaker. It is a tale about family and the beauty of Chinese cuisine. It taps into the nostalgia for a traditional family structure and Chinese domestic values. 

Watch Eat Drink Man Woman on DVD or Kanopy.

Joanne, Ōtautahi-Christchurch Aotearoa

My memories of winter as a child are of sitting in front of an open fire playing with my dolls, one of which must have been a little close to the fire as her head melted!  Visiting aunts, uncles and cousins on a rainy Sunday afternoon or watching an old movie on TV with my parents.  Not wanting to leave the lounge and go down the cold hall to the kitchen. Our house wasn’t very well insulated back then.

These days I don’t really enjoy winter and complain about its arrival every year.

CoverTo make these months more enjoyable I make sure to meet friends for brunch or lunch, do day trips out of the city, browse antique and collectable shops to see if I can find something I didn’t know I needed.  I’ll go out to a movie now and then or if I can’t drag myself out into the cold I’ll watch a dvd at home with some nice buttery popcorn.

I quite like watching the first Bridget Jones movie to cheer me up.  Surprisingly it is set in winter with lots of snow!  I enjoy the scenery and the comedy of this movie.  It makes winter look like fun. Read Bridget Jones's Diary and the sequel The Edge of Reason.


Mayra, Mexico

Winter… For me winter is the delicious smell of “calientinto” (a hot and fruity beverage we make in Mexico by sipping some winter fruits including sugarcane stalks), tamales, champurrado… lots of food; basically it’s Christmas time. Having born in one of the most Catholic countries out there, of course winter will be all about Christmas, but also because it is the only way you could actually tell it was winter, since in my town we have pretty much the same weather/temperature all year round. So for me Winter is having delicious food and gather with the rest of our extended whanau: catching up, dancing, eating, and some more eating, for the whole Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon (12th Dec – 6th Jan).

A winter/Christmas film that I really enjoy and totally recommend is In Bruges, directed by Martin McDonagh. It is a film set during Christmas in the Belgian city of Bruges but it has nothing really to do with the holiday.  ‘In Bruges’ is a dark comedy and has some astonishing images of the city, as well as a great cast.

Kowoon, Korea

CoverIn Korea, there are many winter street foods. When I was young, my dad often bought some winter street foods on his way home such as Red Bean filled pastries, steamed buns, egg breads, fish cakes with hot broth and baked sweet potatoes and our family enjoyed having those snacks in the long, cold winter evenings.
There are a couple of winter movies I enjoy. ‘Love Letter’, a Japanese movie which is such a beautiful and sad winter movie. The March of the Penguins is also beautiful documentary to watch in winter time.


Valerie, farm in the middle of Victoria, Australia

When I was a child, winter was a time when the weather was often too cold and wet to play outside.

Activity on our farm would wind down. The fruit had been picked and either bottled or turned into jam. The wheat crops had been planted. The sheep and cattle were checked daily and given a mix of oats, wheat and hay to keep them healthy until spring, when the babies were born and the sheep were shorn.

We would go to the football on Saturday, and in the evening, we would eat toast that had been made in the open fire.

My Father would spend his days in the machinery shed repairing farming equipment and my Mother would knit, sew and repair clothing for the family. We would read a lot over winter and be read to.

As an adult, living in another country and away from a farm, I still think of winter as a time to read, make things, repair things and learn things.

Hayley - Philippines

I wish we have winter in the Philippines. Growing up, I envy those kids on TV shows where they play in the snow, drink hot chocolate in front of a fireplace and skate in the park just like in the movie, Home Alone.  The Philippines being a tropical country doesn’t get to experience winter, at all. We only have two seasons a year: dry (November to April) and wet/rainy (May to October).  For this blog, I’ll be focusing on the rainy season where we curled up under the blanket, read our favourite books and listen to the pitter-patter sound of the rain on our rooftop. I’m not an expert on hygge, but that’s close enough for me (I think..)

I can still recall when I was young, how my siblings and I waited excitedly for May, the start of the rainy season. After the long hot drought two months of March and April, we were looking forward to a cooler climate. There’s even a superstitious belief that the first rain in May will bring you luck if you go outside and play in the rain.

So, starting 1 May, we waited in anticipation for the rain to come. We looked up in the sky, hoped for it and even did the rain dance. And when it did, we all run outside and showered in the rain. We went around the neighbourhood, called all our friends and played karera ng bangkang papel (paper boats race). If it was up to us, we would stay outside for as long as we could but our mum or grandma would tell us off if we stayed out too long. It’s alright though because when we get home, a champorado (Filipino chocolate sticky rice pudding), our favourite comfort food was laid out on the table, ready to be devoured, perfect for a cool rainy afternoon.

Hong - Southwest China

CoverI am from Southwest China. In China, people’s winter experience can be varied, depending whether they live in the south or the north of the country. However, there is one thing in common. People like festivals during the winter. My favourite ones are Dongzhi Festival, Laba Festival and Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

These festivals are a great time to enhance people’s wellbeing through family gathering, sight-seeing and food tasting.  The winter time of New Zealand is different from that of China as the two countries are not located in the same hemispheres. The ideas of enjoying the winter time would still be applicable. To warm up, you can make food like dumplings  and Laba congee.

Read our cookbooks on how to make dumplings.  If you would like to visit the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, make sure to plan ahead and get enough winter clothing ready.

YOUR Winter traditions?

Tell us about the Winter traditions in your whānau in the comments below.