Christmas: Germany's top export
Scented candles. Loose leaf tea. A single piece of chocolate placed delicately on a tiny plate.
Once upon a time, these simple pleasures were nothing more than pick-me-ups designed to take the edge off a stressful day.
Then, a few years ago, hygge came along and they became part of a Danish-born wellness trend that took the world by storm and presented an unusual opening for anyone who'd ever dreamed of publishing a book about cushions or tea lights.
Not everyone was converted though. Hygge, the outraged maintained, isn't anything new. And the concept of well-being and coziness it evokes is certainly not exclusive to Denmark.
Germany at the forefront
They have a point. But if the commodification of coziness is what the hygge haters object to, it's worth noting that there's a far greater offender out there than the Danes.
I'm talking, of course, about the Germans. For centuries, they've been quietly marketing and exporting their own blend of hygge. In fact, they've become so good at it that you've probably jumped on the bandwagon without even knowing that the trend you're following has a name.
German hygge is called weihnachtsstimmung (pronounced vie-nachtz-shtimmung), and it's an export sensation. Loosely translated as Christmas mood or atmosphere, it's exemplified by steaming mugs of mulled wine, hand-crafted decorations, the scent of fir tree and lots and lots of gingerbread.
Since the 14th century, Germany has been shamelessly promoting these seasonal delights in special zones known as Christmas markets. Best described as the economic nerve centers of festive cheer, they tend to be located in a town or city's central square, meaning heavy footfall is all but guaranteed.
Unlike hygge, weihnachtsstimmung has not been subjected to any form of backlash. In fact, cheap travel and the rise of globalization have caused the popularity of German-style Christmas markets to surge. These days, they can be found all over the world. From Beijing to Bangkok, the smell of roasted almonds and pine needles is prompting revelers to reach straight for their wallets.
A good deal of flexibility
In some places, like Sydney, these markets even take place in August to coincide with wintertime in the region. This seasonal adjustment shows just how well weihnachtsstimmung has been packaged as a commodity, instead of, say, a solemn preparation for the most important event in the Christian calendar.
If I haven't convinced you yet, maybe the numbers will. In 2016 — the year for which the most recent gingerbread export figures are available — Germany sent over €52 million ($59 million) worth of Christmas confectionary abroad. Well over 1,000 tons went to the United States.
Add to that the million trees that are exported annually and the 480 tons of decorations that go with them, and you get a picture of just how lucrative weihnachtsstimmung really is.
Of course the economic lesson from all of this is that if you want to commercialize coziness, you need to focus your energy on when the need is greatest: the depths of winter. And don't just turn up on the world stage and expect everyone to drop everything for you. That's not the way to sustain a business.
I'm sorry to say it, hygge. But you had your moment in the sun. Come back to me in six centuries, and we'll talk marketing over a mug of mulled wine.