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Koselig For Dummies

Do you think Norwegians are as cold as their winters? Take a crash-course in the concept of koselig, and you’ll get fresh perspective on the Nordic way of life.

It can sometimes seem like us Nordic people are uniformly counted to be as cold as the climate of our winters. We are all considered strict, stiff, and silent. Remarks are often made about how the person next to you on the bus “didn’t say a word” to you for the whole ride. Hopefully this includes a calculation of how many words you said to the (poor) guy you are sneering at.

Of course, some points about us Northerners being reserved in public might be valid. But with this validation, there has to be accredited some legitimacy to the fact that such a reservation will vanish as soon as we are outside the public realm. In private, we enjoy being open and we are genuinely interested in the world outside of our personal radius of a good meter or two. In familiar environments this radius tends to decrease gradually in parallel to the time and trust invested in the situation. The analogy of comparing Norwegians to coconuts might not be too far off. Once you crack open the hard shell, you will find us soft and sweet inside.

For Norwegians, the currency in which we measure and explain physical and emotional warmth is called koselig. Koselig can apply to actions, people, situations and moods. Even though it is difficult to accurately define what koselig is, and what is koselig, there is consensus amongst Norwegians of the innate understanding and cultural importance of the concept of koselig. Whether you are a person who seeks and creates opportunities for experiencing something koselig, or whether you are not, we stay on accord agreeing that koselig has a dear and treasured place in our culture.

Even though koselig is an all-year phenomenon, deep fall and early winter might be the peak season for something koselig. The bliss of summer is long gone, and the crisp feeling of fall is starting to fade. The stressors of everyday life are showing in faces on sidewalks, under grim office lights, and in the checkout line at grocery stores. However, the inevitable dark circles under tired gray eyes, and shoulders tightly raised towards ear level, turn out to motivate people to seek comfort and relief. Which might just be why everything turns extra koselig when the days get shorter and the nights get colder.

Outside the Norwegian tradition of finding peace and comfort in candle light or a pair of homemade knitted woolen socks, the idea of koselig is usually lost in translation. Asking for a literal translation of the word would most likely give you some version of cozy, snuggly, or nice. Yet a literal translation does not suffice. Koselig is not just an adverb that describes an action or an event. Koselig is not just a fluffy sweater, nor is it just a cup of hot chocolate savoured in good company. It is all of the above. And so much more.

If you don’t have a full understanding of the heartwarming idea of something being koselig, here is a short list of aspects of its applicability.

When people are koselig
If you meet a koselig person, you will most likely walk away from that meeting feeling good about yourself. Most likely you were met by smiling eyes. Maybe the koselig person complemented your sweater, or encouraged you to treat yourself just because you deserve it. Most likely the person is koselig not because of what he or she said, but because of how he or she said it. If saying anything at all. Without effort, traits like being a good listener and showing genuine interest are easily noticeable when meeting a koselig person. I have met lots of koselig people across all ages, male and female, but a type of person who is generally always koselig, is a sweet, old grandma. Grandmas are koselig, not just because they are old, but because they bring out the best in other people.

Doing something koselig
It is not a requirement that something has to be old for it to be koselig. Something happening right now can be koselig. However, it does indeed require time. Making dinner at home, instead of going out can create an oh! so koselig evening. Inviting, or being invited, to a thoughtfully and well-prepared home cooked meal shows guests that they are worthy of both time and ingredients. In our busy lives, having a group of friends, or family, come together to make a meal, simple or fancy, becomes extra koselig. Being in someone’s home creates an intimate and personal atmosphere where we want to open up, and offer our honest thoughts and reflections. Food in itself can also be koselig. I find baking very koselig, especially when someone takes the time and effort to make cinnamon rolls or a multi-layer cake. Events do not, however, have to revolve around food to be koselig (but let’s be honest, it really helps). Simple things like looking in a family photo album, going fishing with your grandpa, or going on a nighttime drive in the rain are all koselig things to do. Going on a Sunday afternoon hike in the woods is also koselig. Sometimes you might not be aware that the situation is koselig until it is over. I know this from experience. In those situations it is probably just the smoke from the fire, the one that seems to follow you wherever you move, that fogs up your discernment of what is koselig and not. 

Koselig things
Objects and things can have the property of being koselig. A flowery dress can be koselig when worn by a happy, innocent little girl. As can a homemade sweater knitted by someone with care and loving effort. A picture and its composition can be koselig, and the placing on the wall can increase the feeling of koselig even more. You know it when you enter a home that is koselig. There is just something about the welcoming feeling and hospitality, and the interior too. Like if there is a fireplace, then there’s no doubt about it. We find it extremely koselig to light wooden fires. Or candles. The more candles, the more koselig. Nowadays it appears that we find anything that is not of the latest fashion koselig.

Moods & feelings that are koselig
When the holidays come around, almost everything is koselig. The koselig feeling of listening to Christmas music joins the mindset of being kind to yourself and others. But a koselig feeling is not limited to Christmas and other holidays. Anyone can be in a koselig mood at any time of the year. A koselig mood can be described as an innocent mindset that is never inappropriate and one that wishes everyone well.

Koselig is about the attitude of the community you are in at a certain time, whether that is by yourself or in a big group. It is about feeling comfort on the inside and bringing out the best of yourself and of others. Koselig thrives on time and effort of genuine, innocent love. Koselig truly believes that it is the thought that counts. Koselig is about generosity. Experiencing something koselig is a compliment. It is a demonstration of something ideal that is pleasing to the greater good.