Creating kos

Embracing winter the Norwegian way


Photo: Max Stevenson / Norway House
The exhibit Strikkekose: The Cozy Norwegian Mitten Showcase is a celebration of winter hygge. Mittens were collected from volunteer knitters across the Midwest, with the collection continuing throughout the exhibit’s run with local submissions and donations.

St. Paul, Minn.

In a large part of Norway, winter brings a season without light—the mørketid. The absence of the sun creates a starker transition into colder temperatures and more serious weather. And while wintertime can bring seasonal depression and fatigue, the best approach to navigate the season is to befriend it—something Norwegians have crafted like an art form. This friendship starts with acceptance and the active process of leaning into winter, as opposed to fighting it. 

The pandemic adds another layer to a season, marked by staying in, and staying warm, and making it difficult for people to gather indoors. In what feels like an unending in-and-out isolation, many people have taken up new hobbies to fill their time, and one of the most popular new skills is knitting. 

Local Twin Cities knitting teacher Kate Running described her teaching experience from the last year: “I was able to return to masked in-person classes at the end of 2021. The beginning knitting class filled almost immediately, and the majority of the class were individuals looking for a new and fun hobby to do at home. I’ve been knitting since middle school and have always enjoyed it but especially during quarantine, I was grateful to have it. I welcomed having more time to knit and was able to delve into more complicated projects. I like knitting because it’s a lifelong art, there’s always more to learn and more to share with others. I’m glad its popularity is growing!” 

To celebrate this joy of knitting, Minneapolis’ Norway House has a new exhibit that will be up in their gallery through Feb. 20. “Strikkekos: The Cozy Norwegian Mitten Showcase” is based on the definition of the Norwegian concept, “strikkekos [stri`kk:ə kōs]: (noun) The feeling of coziness and conviviality that comes with contented knitting. Also, the act, itself.” 

Knitting, like gardening, can help our mind mirror the action your body is doing. Piecing together, untangling, and arranging yarn in rows can occupy our hands and let our mind wander and go through internal processes. Even the satisfaction of making something can add to our contentment and self-confidence.

Handmade mittens are, physically, one of the coziest things on earth. The love and care that the maker weaves into the yarn, creates this feeling. They are made to keep us warm and deserve to be celebrated as creations of strikkekos and traditional fiber art. 

When we think about staying warm and cozy in the winter, the Danish phenomenon hygge (adjective: hyggelig) comes to mind. This Danish word has been in the zeitgeist since around 2016. Both hygge and the Norwegian equivalent, kos (adjective: koselig), have been boiled down to mean coziness. More than just mittens, blankets, and warm drinks, these words embody a deeper feeling. It’s as much about what is within as what surrounds us. 

Å kose seg, is a phrase in Norwegian that directly translates as, “to make yourself cozy,” the dictionary gives us a more realistic definition, “to be cozy, snug, satisfied; enjoy the moment.” Both kos and hygge ask that the external life influence the internal. This can be done daily in small moments like lighting a candle or starting a fire in the fireplace, adding comfortable elements to your space, or making a cup of tea. On a larger level, it can be looking forward to a gathering with friends and truly treasuring the moment when it comes.

Hygge is a trend that has proved its lasting cultural impact and has branched out into different forms in the health and wellness sphere. One of these deviations comes from author Stephanie Pedersen who wrote the book, American Cozy. In this book Pedersen, a Danish-American lifestyle expert, uses hygge as a guide for how to create coziness from an American cultural perspective. Homes and rooms don’t have to be minimalist if that’s not what makes us the most comfortable. Pedersen recalls her grandparents’ home in Arizona, warm with bold colors that used space for special knickknacks and collections. The feeling of the family home, where games were played and meals cooked, is what made her feel cozy from within.

Here are some simple recipes for everyday koselig moments:

Make dinner with a friend or partner, sit down with them and chat in the candlelight

Dedicate time to a craft, whether it’s an old favorite or something new (making sure to give yourself grace and not judge your “productivity”)

Put on a favorite album and take a hot shower or bath, stay until your body is completely relaxed–bonus points for using Epsom salts or a bubbly bath bomb

Take time to have a cup of coffee or tea at home before work, and maybe even a full plate of breakfast to start your day, especially good in the late winter sun

During your commute or on a walk, call someone you’ve been missing

Add a living element to your space, fresh flowers or a plant; find a way to bring the outside in

Creating intention in moments, big and small, is what builds contentment. When winter is a friend and we allow ourselves to take a rest and nest in our homes, we release some tension. 

Like mindfulness, embracing hygge and creating kos is not a cure for chronic stress or systemic pressures—but it can be a way to use what you have and make the best of a moment or an experience. Norway House is opening its building to visitors during the Strikkekos exhibit and providing cozy corners to craft. “Cozy blankets, pillows, space heaters, books, mugs, etc., are available. Bring your own cozy pants, reading glasses, knitting patterns, and face masks!” 

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis. She is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, Laila translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.