Westborough Local History Pastimes – January 22, 2021

Family Enjoying the Snow (Brandin Tumeinski, photographer; Photographer-in-Residence Photograph Collection)

Hygge

The fifth-grade curriculum in Illinois where I went to school in the ‘70’s included a study of world cultures. Throughout the year we focused on various areas of the world and then studied the countries and the people who inhabited them. At the time I loved learning, imagining, and playacting what life would be like if I lived in different parts of the world.

Maybe it was my enjoyment of reading the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or the wooden toy soldiers that a relative brought back for me from her travels, but when we were asked to pick a European country to present to the class, I jumped at the chance to research Denmark. I remember dressing up for my presentation as a Danish farmer, which included a pair of clogs my teacher brought in for me to wear so as to make my outfit more authentic. The curriculum taught me that there are many ways to live out what it means to be human, and since that time I have always embraced experiencing new cultural practices, trying different foods, learning new philosophies, and perhaps adopting some of these as my own if they improved my life.

This year, facing a winter that promised to be even harsher and more isolating than in years past due to the pandemic, I decided that I needed to change my approach. The loss of daylight in recent winters had started to cast a pall over my days as I anxiously waited for longer periods of sun to take hold. And even though I have always enjoyed winter, the prospect of shoveling out the driveway after a heavy snowstorm was beginning to lose its appeal as I aged.

Maybe it was time, I thought, to turn once again to Denmark. Scandinavians regularly land at the top of happiest-people-on-earth lists, yet they live in an area of the world that receives less sunlight and longer winters than most places. How do they do that? And can I adjust my life so that I can tap into some of the happiness that they seem to be getting during winter? That’s how, in attempting to answer these questions, I discovered hygge (pronounced HOO-GA).

Hygge is a set of cultural practices that create feelings of comfort, coziness, togetherness, and well-being, and these practices tend to focus on light, food and drink, clothing, social interaction, and interior decorating. As I researched hygge, the practice that spoke directly to my situation is the idea that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Even though the weather gets cold and dark during winter, the Scandinavians continue to enjoy outdoor activities because they dress appropriately to the conditions. So I made sure going into winter that I had all the warm clothing I needed—including Norwegian sweaters!—so that I could enjoy the outdoors no matter the conditions.

Equipped with my comfy coats and sweaters, I also vowed that no matter the weather I would take a walk every morning, by myself (no dogs!). My morning walks allow me to enjoy the rhythms of the weather, the rising of the sun, the cold air, and the animal life beginning to stir. I now start the day connected to my surroundings and feel ready to take on whatever the day holds.

The success of my walk emboldened me to bring hygge to my family. Before my two daughters recently left home to return to their adult lives, we met out on our back deck for 15-20 minutes just before dinner, again, no matter the weather. Standing outside in our winter coats, we watched Mars every night as it moved across the sky; we noticed how fast the cold air chills the drinks in our glasses; and the intimate space created by standing together in the chilly darkness freed us to talk about our thoughts, our developing philosophies, and quirky events that recently happened to us. We had conversations that did not seem to happen at any other time throughout the day, including at the dinner table.

What makes hygge effective? I think it has to do with maintaining control in a comforting way despite facing adverse conditions. My daily walk in the morning puts me face-to-face with the harsh winter weather, but because I am properly dressed, I come to realize that I can surmount the challenge, and in fact that challenge can be invigorating and empowering. What a way to start the day! And the act of putting on our coats with no other reason than to stand around in the cold, crisp air on the back deck creates a comfy space for camaraderie as we mark the end of the day together. Then, as we reenter our house, we appreciate its warmth even more as we settle down to dinner, perhaps lit by candles.

The mild winter we are experiencing may be helping me get through this winter more than I think, but practicing hygge has helped me to escape for at least short periods of time the doldrums of the pandemic, our country’s politics, and the winter. Now, I actually look forward to some harsher weather, so that I can put on my Norwegian sweater, my parka, and my winter boots and head outside equipped for the cold.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Suggested Resources

 

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Looking for an excuse to put on your winter coat and connect with your surroundings? Then why not go on a self-guided architecture tour of Westborough?

The Architectural Walking Tours page on the Westborough Center website has a formal, self-directed tour of the downtown and PDF versions of the information packets created by R. Chris Noonan and Luanne Crosby for their popular architecture tours.

Hygge is also about companionship with a few, select friends or family members, so gather a small group together, bundle up, and explore why Westborough looks the way it does together (remember, of course, to remain socially distant from non-household members). Bonus points if you take a tour while it is snowing!

 

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Coziness is central to hygge, so pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate, put on some fuzzy socks, light a few candles, crawl under a throw, and then sit back and learn about Westborough maps on Monday, January 25, when the Westborough Historical Society and the Civic Club present “Charting Westborough’s History.” The program will take place on Zoom and is free and open to the public.

Here are the details:

Monday, January 25

7:00 – 7:30 p.m. – 2021 Westborough Historical Society Annual Meeting

7:30 – 9:00 p.m. – “Charting Westborough’s History”

Maps record the geographical information of a community, yet some maps tell stories.  Maps are created by individuals who decide the subject of a map at a certain point in time from their point of view.  Join the Westborough Historical Society as they reprise one of their 300th anniversary presentations, “Mapping Westborough – a timeline of Westborough maps from 1630 to 2012.”  Leslie M. Leslie, curator, Westborough Historical Society, will present her many years of research on how Westborough’s development has been charted through maps. Co-sponsored by the Westborough Civic Club.

Zoom Link: 

Time: Jan 25, 2021, 7:00 PM Annual Meeting; 7:30 PM Map Program

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88644640593?pwd=eG8wR1RyNlpsOUtkMzZJa0VJOHREUT09

Meeting ID: 886 4464 0593
Passcode: 219849

Phone for audio only:
+1 346 248 7799
Meeting ID: 886 4464 0593
Passcode: 219849

 

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On a final note, I just have to add that if you missed the “Celebrating America” concert on the evening of the Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday, January 20, I highly encourage you to watch it. Here is the recording from PBS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJFNOvXaToI.

The concert included performers from diverse genres, and all of them were excellent. After the awful desecration of our nation’s capital building and the resulting build-up of security around the National Mall, the concert served to reclaim that space, at least emotionally, for all of the American people, and it demonstrates the power that the arts have for healing and giving us direction when we seem to be adrift.

If nothing else, be sure to catch the awesome fireworks display at the end. I’ve never seen one so spectacular!

Westborough Local History Pastimes – January 8, 2021

Renewal

At last, we can view the light at the end of our pandemic tunnel—although it remains tantalizingly faint and we are told that we are now traveling through its darkest part. Still, that we can realistically imagine reaching the exit means that we can begin to think about who, what, and how we want to be once restrictions are finally lifted.

My sister-in-law is a chief medical officer at a large hospital network, and she openly wonders how the end will come about once most of us receive our vaccines. Will the end be gradual, with liberties slowly being doled back out until only in retrospect we realize that our lives have begun to approximate what we think of as normal life? Or will the opening be as sudden as the shutdown, a time when one day we were commuting and working a normal day and the next we were quickly grabbing resources and supplies so that we could work indefinitely at home? For me, the announcement that I can go into a grocery store here in Massachusetts without my mask will be the sudden sign that I have been waiting for and will be cause for great celebration (even if I have to wait a little longer to travel again).

But once we reach that end point, however we define it, our idea of normalcy will have changed. We will no longer be the persons we were when the pandemic first started. Our perspective of the world will be different. We will have developed coping skills that we did not know we had. And there will be certain behaviors that we may not want to participate in anymore. But as we build back our social existence, we each have a special opportunity to redefine both ourselves and our individual place within our community.

These kinds of reflections, or variants of them, are not new in the cycle of dealing with profound illness. In fact, they were common back in colonial New England.

Last month, the American Antiquarian Society held a virtual program entitled, “Before COVID: Illness in Everyday Life in Early New England,” that featured Ben Mutschler, author of The Province of Affliction: Illness and the Making of Early New England. (See below for more information.) During the program, in response to a question about whether Puritans connected illness with moral short-comings, Mutschler contends, “There is a common providential refrain of trying to understand the purpose of illness, how one is supposed to react to it, and it changes over time. But there is an overall sense that illness can be a chance for self-examination, for repentance, and renewal—to let go of things of the temporal world, a kind of correction.”

If we are indeed rounding the corner for the final push to conquer the coronavirus, we may end up back in the “fast lane” sooner than we expect. In these dark days, now is the time to engage in some thought about how much we want to return to the way things were, what we may want to build in their stead, and what steps we can take to maintain as much of the positive aspects that emerged during this unique period of isolation as possible. And by engaging in such reflection, we will be joining our historical forebears in viewing illness as an opportunity to improve and renew our lives.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and I look forward to our collective creation of Westborough’s new normal!

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

Suggested Reading

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Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Diary, September 5-7, 1774
(American Antiquarian Society)

You can view the entire program, “Before COVID: Illness in Everyday Life in Early New England,” which includes a conversation between Ben Mutschler and Ashley Cataldo, Curator of Manuscripts at the American Antiquarian Society, on YouTube: https://youtu.be/XR0opqGL7cY.

And there is added incentive to check out the program, because Westborough’s own Rev. Ebenezer Parkman is prominently featured. Beginning around minute 16:30, you can view a prepared video of what it is like to see and read parts of Parkman’s diary held at the American Antiquarian Society while Mutschler and Cataldo discuss its significance and its value for studying illness in colonial America. During his research, Mutschler relied heavily on Parkman’s diary—and he extensively used the Westborough Public Library’s online edition of Parkman’s diary on the Ebenezer Parkman Project website. In fact, during the program he gave the Ebenezer Parkman Project a shout-out!

You can also watch a short video of Cataldo talking about the value of diaries as part of the promotion for her conversation with Mutschler, and, as you can probably already guess, Cataldo notably focuses on Parkman and his diary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccRFq8mgrpE&feature=youtu.be.

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Rev. Ebenezer Parkman

Now, why not go to the source?! Prof. Ross W. Beales, Jr.—whose transcribed version of Parkman’s diary is the one that appears on the Ebenezer Parkman Project website—has compiled various entries dealing with medical concerns: http://diary.ebenezerparkman.org/diary-themes-topics/. These entries provide real insight into how Parkman and the people of colonial Westborough dealt with health problems, such as cancer, dysentery, measles, rickets, and small pox.

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Why wait until the pandemic’s end to begin the process of social renewal? Westborough Connects, Central MA Connections in Faith (CMACIF), Westborough Interfaith Association, and the Westborough Public Schools are co-hosting the third annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Monday, January 18 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Zoom.

This year’s theme is “Standing in My Shoes: Love, Inclusion, Trust” and will feature a keynote address by poet, activist, and Brandeis University Dean of Students, Jamele Adams, also known as Harlem 1two5.

Part of the festivities also involves a National Day of Service, where community members are invited to pick up a Black Lives Matter rock painting project kit at the Westborough Public Library’s front steps on January 18th to take home and paint. The project is sponsored by WeCARE – Westborough Committee for Anti-Racism in Education. Celebration registrants are also encouraged to make a donation to the Westborough Food Pantry at the Fire Station Lobby, Roche Bros. or Lyman Street Stop & Shop.

More information can be found about the program found at www.westboroughconnects.org/programs. Closed captioning in English and Live Spanish language interpretation will be available during the live event. Westborough TV will also re-broadcast the program.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the program format, pre-registration is required and space is limited. Registration is available in English HERE, and a Spanish-language registration is available HERE.