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Grand Marais' Hygge Festival embraces winter coziness

Jan 12, 2020 05:30AM ● By Editor

Big Bear Lodge in Grand Marais has a large, wood-burning fireplace that's part of a Fireplace Tour during the city's Hygge Festival in February. Photo: Cook County Chamber of Commerce

By Brian E. Clark, Special to the Journal Sentinel - January 10, 2020


The Danes know how to do hygge, their word for cozy.

Over centuries (millenniums?) they’ve honed the art of enjoying winter by going for a hike and then relaxing by a crackling fire in a sweater and warm pair of socks, sipping a hot drink and snuggling with a loved one — or a favorite pooch or kitty. 

This cultural phenomenon has caught on around the world in the past decade as others try to emulate how the Danes achieve conviviality, wellness, appreciation of family and friends — resulting in the feeling of overall contentment.  

Several books have been published on the subject in recent years, including “Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness” by Marie Soderberg, and “The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well” by Louisa Thomsen Brits.

Denmark, the southernmost Scandinavian country with a population of less than 6 million, is regularly ranked among the top four happiest countries in the world by the World Happiness Report, right up there with Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden. The U.S. ranked 19th in the 2019 report.

Several communities around the Midwest are celebrating the hygge trend in coming weeks, but none are doing it with more enthusiasm than Grand Marais, a city of less than 2,000 people on the shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. 

Lake Superior freezes along the shoreline in Grand Marais Minnesota

Lake Superior freezes along the shoreline in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Photo: Kjersti Vick


Grand Marais’ Hygge Festival runs Feb. 7-16 and will feature everything from fireplace tours and candlelight cross-country ski and snowshoe outings to a traditional Scandinavian folk song concert and music by a string quartet from the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra at Voyageur Brewing. 

The Hygge celebration coincides with Fiber Week at North House Folk School. The week features classes and artist talks dedicated to the fiber arts, including knitting, sewing, weaving, crocheting and felting. 

Kjersti Vick said the Hygge Festival is now in its fourth year and took off as the hygge concept migrated from Denmark to the U.S. and grew in popularity. 

“We toyed with the idea of this festival for a couple of years and then it just clicked,” she said. “Enough people said that yeah, that’s a cool concept and a great way to promote visiting up here in the winter.”

In the summer and fall, Grand Marais is a jumping off point for paddling trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on the U.S.-Canadian border. The town's North House Folk School offers a myriad of courses, ranging from building your own canoe to furniture-making to rosemaling, a Norwegian decorative art.

In the winter, visitors come to Lutsen Mountains, a ski resort with a 1,000-foot vertical descent about 20 miles southwest.

Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota has an outdoor fire pit for warming up around after skiing

Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota has an outdoor fire pit for warming up around after skiing. Photo: Per Breiehagen


The Hygge Festival is another reason to visit in winter, especially for the fireplace tour. While many of the stops are noteworthy, Vick said the famed Gunflint Lodge, 143 S. Gunflint Lake Road, Grand Marais, is of special note. It has two fireplaces, one that was made from debris from one of the world’s largest and oldest meteorite impacts, which struck nearby Ontario, Canada, more than 2 billion years ago and left a crater with a diameter of 150 miles. The second one was made from split granite. 

“Few things make you feel more cozy than coming in from a chilly hike, ski or snowshoe tour with your eyebrows frosted over than a crackling fire,” said Vick, who grew up skiing at Lutsen Mountains. “That’s long been our way of life up here in the north. Then once we warm up, we go back outside and play again.”

More information: Grand Marais is about 500 miles northwest of Milwaukee. For more on the festival, see visitcookcounty.com/event/hygge-festival.

Closer to Milwaukee is the Andersonville Hygge Fest Feb. 1-2 in the Chicago neighborhood about seven miles north of downtown. It was settled in the late 1880s primarily by Swedish immigrants as well as a few Danes. Farther north in Evanston, the downtown will devote the entire month of February to welcoming visitors with coziness. 

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To see the original article and read related reporting, follow this link to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel website.  https://www.jsonline.com/story/travel/wisconsin/weekend-getaway/2020/01/10/grand-marais-hygge-festiv...

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