One feels most at ease when surrounded by calming tones” quiet rather than loud, gentle rather than sharp. The Christmas Channel Yule Log on American television might suggest that the crackle of glowing flames and the tinkle of holiday carols provides the perfect backdrop for a cozy evening, but there are many more personal sounds that elicit a feeling of contentment. The patter of children’s feet on hardwood floors and their laughter floating across the room are a reminder of the young, vibrant spirits sharing your home, while the rhythmic chop of a knife prepping on the cutting board and the sizzle of hot oil in a pan are a preface to the delicious meal you’re about to share with loved ones. Such sounds are neither boisterously intrusive nor demanding your attention. Rather, they beckon and invite you to join the conversation and engage with family.
Cozy is an adjective used to describe fluffy pillows and soft, thick blankets, and for good reason. Unlike the desk chairs that nudge your lower back in an attempt to keep you sitting ramrod-straight or the hard surfaces of a bar stool, scarves, throws, and blankets adjust their shapes to the one wrapped in them. Rather than asking for your limbs to be flexible and your muscles to be forgiving, these articles instead accept your angles and bumps and adjust effortlessly to your unique contours. Even cozier is an embrace by the one you love, sharing the warmth of their skin or fur.
According to the advertisements lining the subway and the catalogs that appear in your mailbox, you can bring coziness into your home with candles that emit notes of artificial vanilla, pumpkin spice, or apple cider. Often, however, the feeling of coziness is intimately connected with the complex scents that are tied together with some of your fondest memories. The fragrance of bacon greeting you first thing in the morning may be a reminder of weekend breakfasts from your childhood, or the smell of Tabasco in a richly-seasoned, spicy seafood gumbo may bring to mind special dinners with aunts, uncles, and cousins. The scent of lemons and apples caramelizing in sugar may call back memories of baking apple pie with your grandparents, while the daily aroma of morning coffee may bring back memories of sharing every breakfast with your father for the past 20 years. While such nostalgia is often attached to the inviting aromas of cooking, it is not limited to the realm of food. For some, the scent of pine needles triggers memories of climbing through snow banks to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, and the subtle fragrance of even the most common drugstore lotion can remind them of being embraced by their mothers before bed. The most non-descript smells might mean nothing to one person, yet for another, they evoke yearnings for the comfort of homes from years past.
When the days are icy and your body feels cold from the depths of your bones, no number of coats or hats is going to warm you up and dispel the lingering chill. It’s almost as if your body has lost its ability to generate its own heat, and there is nothing left to insulate. At moments like these, a hot cup of tea, coffee, or liquor can light a flame in your stomach, like someone has fed you the most delicious cup of molten, liquid gold, which slowly flows through your body and warms you from mouth to fingertips and everywhere in between. More effective is the heat that comes from a flame kindled in your heart, the kind that brings a flush to your cheeks and makes you as rosy as a red-hot tea kettle. Time spent with loved ones, especially ones far away, can give that fire energy. In Chinese, a gathering of people that is lively and chaotic is described as being re nao, 熱鬧, a term that incorporates the Chinese character for heat. After all, it’s no surprise that any gathering with good company makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.