Hygge and Light: Part 1 – Candles

Candles are to hygge as water is to swimming.

From what I’ve read I feel confident sharing this analogy although it gives me flashbacks to taking the ACTs.

Actually lighting is an important part of hygge. This post will be about candles and next week will discuss lamps – yes there are lamps that are more hygge than others. But for now it’s about candles.

According to Meik Wiking the author of The Little Book of Hygge:

No recipe for hygge is complete without candles. When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, an overwhelming 85 percent will mention candles.

A study done by Wiking found that 28% of Danes say they light candles every day, 23% 4-6 days a week, 23% 1-3 days a week, 8% less than 1-3 days per month while only 4% say they never light candles. 14% said they don’t know and I’m hoping that means they don’t know how many days and not that they don’t know if they light candles.

And the candle business is booming in Denmark. According to the European Candle Association, Denmark burns more candles per person than any other country in Europe. Each Dane burns around six kilos of candle wax each year which is 13.2277 pounds (which takes me back to high school math).

When it is dark and cold outside, there’s nothing more hyggeligt than peppering your home with candles. But it’s not just a winter/darkness custom, Danes use candles in spring and summer.

Rufus Gifford, former United States Ambassador to Denmark, spoke about the abundance of candles:

“…it is not just in the living room. It is everywhere. In your classrooms, in your boardrooms. As an American, you think “Fire hazard! – how can you possibly have an open flame in your classroom?”

A good example of how important the candle is in Denmark, in Danish lyseslukker is the word for what English languages would call a spoilsport, cold fish, killjoy, party pooper, stick in the mud, wet blanket (someone who puts an end to others’ fun). Lyseslukker literally means “the one who puts out the candles.” I can’t wait to use this term some time. I wonder if Rose Nyland ever used in on The Golden Girls?

What Type of Candles.

One draw back to candles can be soot. Studies have shown that lighting just a single candle fills the air with more microparticles than traffic in a busy street. (One study can be found here.) Scented candles are not the norm in Denmark. They are considered artificial – Danes prefer natural and organic candles.

Safer alternatives are candles that use a cotton or paper wick, and are either unscented or scented with essential oils. The candles themselves should be made with 100 percent soy, beeswax, coconut wax, hemp oil, or some combination that doesn’t contain any paraffin.

Special candle occasion in Denmark.

On May 4th you are likely to see more than the usual number of candles in the windows of homes in Denmark. It is a reminder that on the evening of May 4, 1945 the BBC announced that German forces who had occupied Denmark had surrendered. As with all countries there were many blackouts at night so enemy planes could not find the cities or targets. When the announcement was made the Danish citizens put a candle in their window to welcome back the light.

The official celebration of Denmark’s liberation is May 5th. However, the official papers – when the German army surrendered in all of Northern Europe, and Denmark was declared free, were signed on May 4, 1945. The signing took place in a forest outside Luneburg in Germany on Timeloberg Hill.

The place is not easy to find – and no local tourist guide book indicates where it is. However, a memorial stone was placed in 1995 to commemorate the surrender on its 50th anniversary. It reads:

Capitulation on the Timeloberg
May 4 1945 – 1995
Never again war.


Written by Mary Hirsch