Social gatherings happened often in my childhood home. My parents were the first ones in their circle of friends to have kids in their early 20’s, but that didn’t stop them from inviting people over on a Saturday night. There was always delicious food and drinks, music playing in the background and the warm glow of candlelight. I remember falling asleep to the sounds of laughter, and desperately wishing I could stay up with the adults. Love surrounded me.
When I think of those evenings, a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch culture comes to mind. The word is gezellig. It’s pronounced with a bit of the quintessential Dutch throat-clearing at the beginning and end, with emphasis on the ‘sell’ in the middle. Heh-SELL-ick. Once you’ve learned how to say it, you won’t want to stop! For a bit of help with pronunciation, listen to Barack Obama say gezellig.
It means cozy, but is also used to describe much more than that. A nice atmosphere, the feeling of belonging, time spent with loved ones, and warm feelings from general togetherness are gezellig. Feeling comfortable and relaxed, friendly, gregarious, and positive is gezellig. It is an adjective that describes the ambiance that I hold dear, and try hard to create throughout my life.
The relevance and importance of this word has struck me to my core after the election. It is a battle cry, a movement. Living a gezellig life is making a conscious decision to choose love and community, instead of fear and hatred. It is making an effort to show up at the table, be supportive and inclusive, and to lead by example.
A friend recently reached out and proposed the idea of a heritage potluck. His response to the election is to focus on what is important to him – friendship, diversity, good food, and enjoying each other’s company. Each of us will bring a dish that represents our family history, and we will have dishes from all sorts of backgrounds – Haitian, East Indian, Ukranian, Dutch, Irish, French, Norweigian, and Scottish, to name a few. Our diversity is what makes us stronger, and now more than ever is the time to celebrate our differences. We will share stories of our family history while we enjoy good food and drink, music in the background, and the warm glow of candlelight.
These are the sort of gatherings that give me hope. I am hopeful that we will bring children into this world and surround them with love. Living a gezellig life is a small but powerful way to fight the fear of things that we don’t understand. Taking the time to love each other regardless of whether we share the same background is the best way to cause change. I believe in that wholeheartedly, and I hope others do the same!