I always wondered why we don’t have a word for the last week of the year. The overstuffed, dozy gap between Christmas and New Year. If you’re anything like me, these few days usually pass by in a hypnagogic haze – somewhere between awake and asleep. The post-Christmas comedown has kicked in, but it’s the consequence of the past 12 months as much as the festivities. This week is a mix of literal and metaphorical leftovers: in the fridge, at the shops (at this point, the turkey and sprouts look equally appetising as those racks of rapidly wilting party dresses) and of the year itself. I always wondered whether there was a better way to see out the year than stuffing yourself with leftover Quality Street and rolling inexorably towards a New Year’s Eve blowout… Turns out there is.
Romjul is the Norwegian word for the last week of the year. It has a name and its own specific set of activities and traditions, which help make the most of the holidays, but also bring a bit of balance and recalibration to the last few days of the year. There’s eating, obviously, and a fair bit of staying in, creating a cosy nest. It’s a peaceful time to hang out with family and friends, but it’s also traditional to get outside and take walks, and to spend some time reflecting on the year that has passed and what comes next.
Romjul is a peaceful time to hang out with family and friends, but also to get outside and take walks, and to spend some time reflecting on the year that has passed and what comes next
If you think all that sounds like the Danish concept of midwinter cosiness “hygge”, that might be because it is, a bit. In fact, "hygge" comes from the old Norwegian word for "wellbeing" and has really taken off in the UK over the last few winters. If you have yet to hear about it you should definitely look it up – it’s thought that this cultural emphasis on comfort and simple pleasures is one of the reasons the Danes are the happiest nation on earth, despite their cold, dark winters. You won’t have to go far to find out about hygge. There are hygge blogs; there is hygge fashion and interior design. Morley College in London has even started teaching students how to bring the concept into their lives at this time of year. I wonder why it took us so long to catch on – our winters may not be quite so harsh as they are in Scandinavian countries, but we do share some of the drawbacks of living in the northern hemisphere at this time of year.
Of course, it’s not rocket science to improve your mood by getting out for a walk, spending time on your personal relationships and focusing on simple, achievable ways to make life more enjoyable, rather than being a slave to commerce and competitive culture, but it’s also weirdly easy not to do those things. To slip into post-Christmas torpor: sitting mutely in front of the TV or on the sofa with your laptop, rather than spending time with the people who really matter. It’s tempting to stay in when the weather is bad, but that makes it all too easy to forget that the outdoors still exists and that human beings need to spend time in it, to live in our bodies and feel the world against our skin instead of staying stuck inside our own heads all the time. So, this week (this year), I’m going to do my best to embrace and enjoy the last few days of December, even though it’s cold, dark and the tinsel is looking limp. Happy Romjul, everyone….