Gezellig: A Word That Defines the Netherlands’ Cozy Culture
By: Mies Allen
Those that have not been lucky enough to spend time in the Netherlands usually have very similar ideas of Dutchness. These ideas include (but are not limited to) coffee shops, the Red Light District, bicycles, clogs, and windmills. However, if you have visited the Netherlands, you may wonder why something about the culture feels so cozy, welcoming, and comfortable. Well, the Dutch have a word for this – a word that represents Dutchness so perfectly that it cannot be directly translated into any other language:
Gezelligheid is an abstract notion, so it does not represent one particular thing. The closest translation into English would be along the lines of coziness or conviviality. Some suggest that it is closely related to the Danish term Hygge, but as locals point out, the term hygge is now so commercialized that it has become the opposite of gezellig.
What are some examples of Gezelligheid?
As a rule of thumb, anything that makes you feel comforted, wholesome, joyful, or serene can be considered gezellig. For example, curling up in the corner of a pub with a few friends to drink beer is very gezellig. So is dancing around the kitchen as you listen to the radio while making dinner. Equally, a picnic in the park and free swimming in a lake is gezellig too. The most important thing to remember is that gezelligheid is the heart of Dutch culture, so it is not limited to particular seasons or situations. As long as there is an emphasis on living for pleasure, having fun with friends, and being comfortable in your own skin, it can be gezellig.
However, I will be the first to admit that winter, especially the holiday season, is the most gezellig time of year. This is when work slows down for most of us and we can spend more time with friends and family doing things we love. The weather in the Netherlands at this time of year also helps, as it sends the Dutch into their homes to hibernate until the sun comes out.
Not all of us are lucky enough to experience the loveliness of Holland in the winter, so I have created a list of tips you can follow from anywhere in the world to make your winter a little more gezellig.
Gezelligheid in the home
It can be argued that the home is where you should feel most gezellig. After all, your day starts and ends here, so you should be making it as comfortable as possible. Amsterdammers take the home very seriously, and love to show off their cozy nooks to the world. In fact, it will be rare to see a window with their curtains closed off in the city, as they love for tourists to sneak a peek at their interior design skills, particularly at Christmastime. Below is a checklist for items you can have around the house in the winter to make it as gezellig as possible.
- Candles everywhere: French brand Rouje just released scented candles inspired by winter mornings and nights, which would make for a perfectly gezellig ambiance. Otherwise, tall dinner candles and tea lights scattered around the room are perfect.
- Cushions, throws, and blankets galore: Urban Outfitters has a great range, like this Amped Fleece Throw Blanket and this Fluffy Floor Cushion.
- Low lighting: This is best achieved using warm white fairy lights and low watt LED lightbulbs.
- Festive flora and fauna: Bloom & Wild has a beautiful range of Christmas trees and flowers that can be delivered to your doorstep. Also, making your own wreaths and garlands is a very gezellig activity if done with friends over a glass of mulled wine. Here is a tutorial on how to make a dried orange garland to decorate the home.
- Dutch-inspired ornaments: Delft china is probably the Dutchest thing you can use to decorate your home, and it never goes out of style. Make your Christmas tree extra gezellig with these sweet Dutch house ornaments.
- The perfect ambiance: Gezellig surroundings are perfected by the right ambiance. Here is my ‘gezellig’ themed Spotify playlist to really set the mood.
Dressing the part
As mentioned earlier, gezellig is a word that can describe any activity in any season. But, as long as we’re discussing winter in the Netherlands, it’s only natural that you get some inspiration for how to dress to keep comfortable and stylish when it’s cold outside. We already have some tips for you here at Madame Blue for dressing like your favorite Dutch models year-round, so make sure you read our Guide to Dressing Like the Dutch if you haven’t yet.
- Loungewear sets: Nothing says cozy evening on the sofa like matching loungewear. Bonus points if it’s from a Dutch female-owned brand like Butter & Hazel.
- Knitwear: Think big cable-knit grandad jumpers or fisherman sweaters (easily found at thrift shops and vintage stores).
- Combat boots: For festive walks in the countryside with your lover. When it comes to combat boots, there’s only one way to go – Dr. Martens.
- Berets: Because the Dutch use French slang, so why can’t they borrow their accessories?
- Tapered woolen slacks: Popularized by Audrey Hepburn, so they certainly have the Dutch stamp of approval, plus they are so warm and comfortable. We like these from & Other Stories.
This year more than any other has increased the need for gezellig activities. However, no matter where you are in the world at the moment, we are limited as to what we can do with friends and family. The Dutch know this better than anyone, as they are now entering a strict lockdown over the Christmas period. But fear not! There are still plenty of activities that can be done with friends, family, partners, or even just by yourself to lift the spirits during the winter season.
- Fireside chats: If you are allowed to meet with friends, set up a fire pit, light candles, and enjoy a bottle of wine and a comforting meal al fresco. Socializing outside is safer than doing so indoors at the moment, and over a nice hot bowl of soup, this is a lovely festive activity.
- Music in the air: Stream a carol service or a festive concert via your TV. Get all cozy on the sofa, enjoy some festive snacks, mulled wine, light the fire, and enjoy the peaceful voices of a choir.
- Virtual game/trivia night: This was a favorite activity of my family during the first lockdown. If doing a quiz, you should all agree on a topic beforehand, and each team should come up with ten questions to ask the other groups.
- Movie marathon: Think every single James Bond, Star Wars, Marvel, or even Christmas film you can think of that you can stay up all night watching and sleep in the next day.
- Pamper evening: Ritual baths and spa nights are a perfect way of relaxing and this can be a very enjoyable and intimate activity for couples too.