I have a confession: I did not always love being Jewish. As a child, I found it more of a burden than a blessing to be Jewish. On Sundays, I was expected to wake up early and dress in "appropriate clothes" for religious school when I just wanted to be at home, watching cartoons in my pajamas. As an academic overachiever, I also found it stressful to miss school for Jewish holidays, afraid of falling behind. If you told my child self that I would end up with a minor in Jewish studies, lead my college Hillel's board, move to Israel, become Shabbat observant, work for a Jewish organization, and find so much purpose in my Jewish identity that it has become the center of my life, I would have thought you had the wrong Ellie.
My journey of owning my Jewish identity started when I was around 17 years old, when my extended family in Seattle began to gather every Friday night for Shabbat. There were only two rules for the weekly gathering: we had to arrive in our pajamas, and with a fresh-baked, warm, gooey challah. The coziness of the gathering and the quality time with my family felt warm, indulgent, and just...good!
In the winter months, adding elements of simplicity, presence, and coziness - which the Danes and Swedes refer to as "hygge" (pronounced hoo-guh) and what Ashkenazi Jews call "heimish" (pronounced hay-mish; Yiddish for "home") - can elevate the rituals and intentions of Shabbat. Here are a few tips for your most hygge/heimish Shabbat yet!
Ease into the intentional space of Shabbat with some preparatory cooking, baking, and self-care:
1. Make some Jewish soups and stews for your Shabbat table to warm you from the inside out.
2. Bake a challah and eat it fresh out of the oven. You can also save it for later and warm the loaf before eating. Here's our coziest challah recipe for you to try!
3. Make some cookies and enjoy them as a pre-Shabbat dinner treat or dessert. Here's a recipe using leftover Hanukkah gelt for inspiration!
4. Elevate your kiddish wine by making some warm mulled wine - add a bottle of wine to a pot with some water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, orange zest and juice, and cloves. Bring it to a simmer and keep it on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
5. Take a bath with Epsom salt and lavender essential oils. When you get out of the bath, dry off with a fluffy towel before putting on your comfiest pajamas and coziest winter socks.
6. Do relaxing hobbies like knitting, crocheting, painting, reading, journaling, etc. to set the tone for a quiet Shabbat.
When Shabbat comes during the winter, I make some herbal tea, turn off my electronics, light Shabbat candles, pray/meditate for the health and wellbeing of my family and friends and good things in the coming week. Here are some of my recommendations for your coziest Shabbat:
7. As an alternative to lighting Shabbat candles, you can light scented candles or, if you have a fireplace, make a fire before sitting back and watching the flames.
8. Go around the Shabbat table and say what you are grateful for this past week.
9. Have friends over to play board games.
10. Start off Shabbat morning with a sweet treat and warm drink.
11. Be present with your favorite people. I recommend going tech free to enhance the feeling of togetherness.
12. Gather your friends for a winter clothing swap and donate whatever is left to those in need.
13. Set apart some time to read and discuss the weekly Torah portion with a friend or family member.
14. Spend time with some furry friends! Cuddling with a soft, warm pet (either your own or a friend's) is therapeutic and a perfect Shabbat activity.
15. Throw on your warmest coat and take a walk outdoors in a quiet place, filling your lungs with the fresh, cool winter air.
16. Make a blanket fort - you can make it extra special with fairy lights and pillows!
17. Practice meditation or take a nap.
18. Havdalah might just be the most hygge ritual of Shabbat. The light, warming spices, wine, and songs create a wonderful send-off to the peace of Shabbat, and a slow launch into the week ahead.
No matter how you observe and celebrate Shabbat, may it be a cozy time that fills your cup and begins your week with you feeling like your best self!