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There are some words in the Dutch language that just can’t be translated properly into English.

Benauwd. Verklempt. Voorpret.

And gezellig (pronounced phlegm-ze-li-phlegm).

Gezellig is that feeling of…perfect at-home-ness. Coziness. A deep contentment when a place or a group of people or a social situation just feels right. A warm bed on a dark rainy night is gezellig. Sitting around a campfire in quiet companionship with a dear friend is gezellig. A glass of wine and four episodes of Friends after a long day is gezellig.

A friend texted me a few weeks ago about the word. “I have found myself using ‘gezellig’ lately in reference to post-vaccination reunions. It fits so perfectly, e.g. an americano and oat muffin on a patio overlooking a prairie, hearing the song of red-winged blackbirds while talking music with a composer friend. Like, how else would you describe that? It would take several adjectives in English.”

It would indeed. It was just…gezellig.

And it’s the only word I can think of to describe these last few weeks of my own post-vaccine reunions and experiences. After more than a year-and-a-half of not stepping foot in Canada or seeing my family, my congregation graciously and generously gave me the time away so I could go home, fulfill the quarantine requirement, and still have enough time to spend with loved ones. On May 9 I drove across the border, took a picture of the first Canadian flag I could find, and cried.

Home is gezellig.

My family has Zoomed almost every Sunday since the beginning of Covid. But there’s a different kind of conversation that happens when you’re in person. When you can look someone in the eyes, intuit a glance, sit in silence without the silence feeling strange. When you can be present, with nowhere else to go, so the conversation lingers and meanders until new depths of understanding are plumbed.

Going slowly is gezellig.

Every time I go home I fall into old rhythms and patterns. I do the National Post Crossword puzzle over breakfast. I eat bread with gouda and ham for lunch. I drink coffee at the excessively late hour of 5pm with my parents as we talk about our days. Any one of these activities makes me feel like I could be sixteen again, with no great care beyond finishing my homework for the next day, and no great worry other than what I might wear to the high school dance. Eating pannenkoeken on a Saturday morning, I feel safe, known, and at ease.

Familiarity is gezellig.

Part of the reason for this trip was to visit the man I started dating three months ago. We’ve been good friends for years so there already existed a foundation of familiarity, but there’s such a delight now in getting to lean even deeper into our relationship. It’s been a lot of FaceTiming and texts, and so to finally be together in person was a gift. We got to simply *be* together, reading quietly, sitting in silence on the back patio, watching the Great Canadian Baking Show, walking hand-in-hand down the road. In the aforementioned “going slowly,” we got to experience the quiet joy of being with, of feeling safe and known and at ease together.

To be known and to know another is gezellig.

And then it was time to leave, and the leaving was anything but gezellig. To leave the ones I love and the places I love. But it’s a funny thing about love – it can be a big, big thing. And so here, too, in this town in which I did not grow up, amongst people I’ve only known for four years, the heart feels at home. My first stop upon reaching Grand Haven was to a friends’ house, where I was greeted by a three-year old running toward me yelling “WARA!” and a one-year-old stretching out her arms to be held.

To be welcomed is gezellig.

Being in Canada the last three Sundays meant I was gone when the mask requirement was lifted for fully vaccinated people in Michigan. And so this Sunday was an emotional one for me. I sat on my chair on the platform, gazing out at the sea of maskless faces – faces I hadn’t seen in their entirety for over a year. And then they started to sing. “O worship the King, all glorious above.” Voices unencumbered. Strong. In a multitude. The sound of joy. The sound of Church.

To be ourselves again is gezellig.

Gezellig is, in the end, perhaps best translated as such: the joy of being oneself. Known. Loved. Welcomed. Home. Fully as one is.

Maybe Covid will have made things feel even more gezellig than they did before. Maybe we’ll hunger for gezelligheid more than we once did. But I don’t really feel like analyzing all that right now.

I simply want to give thanks that after a long, hard year, I have gotten to experience so much that is gezellig. And to pray that such gezelligheid would continue and abound.

Laura de Jong

Laura de Jong serves as pastor of Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

13 Comments

  • mstair says:

    happy for you
    may we all be blessed with like experiences to appreciate

  • Brad Aupperlee says:

    My phlegm sounds are sorely lacking….but thanks for sharing a new word with us non-Dutch speakers. I’m so glad you got to enjoy your family and friends after such a long time apart!

  • Henk Ottens says:

    As one of the mask-less faces in your congregation I’m relieved that you’ve found gezelligheid on both sides of the border and that you’re content to be back in your home away from home. We appreciate you very much and pray God’s blessings on you and your important work at Second.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    So perfect. Even though pulpit supply while you were gone was people we love to welcome into our midst, it was gezellig to have you back, refreshed and filled with the Spirit. On top of that, a new Dutch word that is as perfect as verplempt!

  • Carol Sybenga says:

    Oh Laura…gezellig… my fabourite Dutch word. I use it so often that the keyboard on my phone will bring the word up as soon as I begin to write ge.. 😊 Thank you for this…I read it through tears.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    It’s a voorpret just to see your name and your title at the top of the posting

  • PHIL DEHAAN says:

    A very nice piece. Thanks Laura. I crossed into Canada in mid-April too, and a tear may have clouded my vision as I was released from the border and my on-site COVID test and pointed my vehicle east on the 402 to do the final 65 miles or so to mom’s house in Exeter. The pandemic has certainly brought into sharper focus the gift of gezellig, as did your reflections.

  • Henry Baron says:

    You made me a bit homesick for echt Dutch gezelligheid, Laura.
    Gezellig includes the word and meaning of gezel = companion.
    For feeling gezellig you need to be in the company of the fight companions.
    You were. And are. May you always be.

    • Henry Baron says:

      Oops! A “fight” companion might not make for real gezelligheid. Please make it the “right” companion.

  • Karl says:

    You have gloriously expanded my understanding of gezelligheid. Thank you! And blessings on your new companionship!!

  • David E Stravers says:

    A word for the New Earth coming?

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      Well, yes. “Gezelligheid heeft geen tijd!” dwz Gezelligheid has no time! It’s timeless, and maybe eternal.

  • Jack Kooyman says:

    Thank you for reminding us about this rich and beautiful word and experience. It strikes me that gezellig–which I learned about from my Dutch immigrant parents–is a small taste or glimpse of God’s reign of shalom.

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