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The twelve smells of Christmas. December 2, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is not, fortunately for all concerned, going to break into song here. Instead, I’d like to talk about the importance of scent in enjoying the Christmas holidays. There are certain smells that inevitably trigger wonderful memories of Christmases past. For me, the smells of Christmas are every bit as important as the sights and sounds. Here are twelve that bring the holidays alive for me (in the order I think of them, not necessarily in the order of importance):

1. Balsam or pine incense. My beloved Mama burned those little sticks of balsam incense that came in a little log cabin incense burner every Christmas. Silence Dogood and I don’t have a log cabin burner, but we still burn balsam and/or pine incense sticks every Christmas season.

2. Frankincense. Our German friends burn cones of frankincense incense in their Santa smokers at Christmas, and we love the treasured fragrance. We were able to find both the incense and a Santa smoker of our own at Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA, and have been enjoying it at Hawk’s Haven ever since.

3. Woodsmoke. Silence and I love this smell anytime, but when it’s snowing outside, the smoky smell is even more magical, carrying us back to The Night Before Christmas, and reminding me of the many Christmas Eves of childhood, with a fire in my bedroom fireplace and my stocking hung by the chimney with care.

4. Real bayberry candles. Our friend Ben can’t really describe the smell of bayberry, but once you’ve smelled it, you’ll never forget it (in a good way). My parents burned real bayberry candles (made from the waxy berries of the bayberry bush, even the color of the candles is a waxy grey-green) every Christmas, and so do Silence and I.  

5. Real beeswax candles. To our friend Ben, few things smell as heavenly as beeswax, with its potent honey scent enhancing the rich gold color of the candles. They’re so expensive that Silence and I typically just keep them on hand to smell them, rather than burn them, and it’s a smell that never loses its charm. In fact, one year our friend Ben thought I’d died and gone to Heaven when I entered a candle stand at Christkindlmarkt and smelled candles that were made of beeswax scented with…

6. Cinnamon. Few things bring out the warmth and comfort of the Christmas season like the smell of cinnamon: cinnamon sticks in mulled cider or hot chocolate, hot cinnamon buns or coffeecake, even the cinnamon-infused pinecones in bags as you walk into the supermarket. Silence and I enjoy cinnamon year-round, in everything from curried carrots to oatmeal. But when the cinnamon sticks come out at our house, you know it’s Christmas!

7. Orange and cloves. The delicious combination of orange and cloves first imprinted itself on the youthful Ben when Mama stuck whole cloves into oranges every December to make pomanders to set out in bowls at Christmas. The whole house was filled with their fragrance. Unfortunately, she often dragooned the kids to help her with this task, and pushing a sharp-pointed clove into a tough orange peel—much less hundreds of them— is not fun! Fortunately, Silence pointed out to the adult OFB that you could pre-punch the holes in the orange with an awl or knitting needle, and the cloves would go right in.

8. Christmas greens. Surely nothing says Christmas like the smell of fresh evergreens, in wreaths and swags as well as fresh-cut trees. Our friend Ben can’t get enough of this smell. It’s the best argument I know of against artificial trees and wreaths. The high-end ones may look realistic, they certainly never need to be replaced or cleaned up after, and they make great display spaces for ornaments. But ah, ah, where is that smell? It’s a good thing Hawk’s Haven is secluded, so no one can see our friend Ben pressing my face into our Christmas wreath every single time I go in or out the door.

9. Snow. Well, maybe snow itself doesn’t actually smell. But the air on those cold, crisp days of winter certainly smells different than the air of spring, summer, or fall.

10. Peppermint. Our friend Ben and Silence are big fans of peppermint year-round, often adding fresh peppermint to our summer salads or simply chewing a leaf when we’re working in the garden. And Silence often enjoys a steaming mug of peppermint tea. But the smell of peppermint at Christmas—candy canes and, especially, those big, soft King Leo peppermint sticks and “pillows” that melt in your mouth (made with pride in our home state, Tennessee)—is a Christmas essential. Santa, please don’t forget to put peppermint sticks in our stockings!

11. Bourbon. By this, our friend Ben really means eggnog. Our family eggnog featured copious quantities of 100-proof bourbon, about the only time the youthful Ben enjoyed this smell (and definitely the only time my siblings and I enjoyed the taste!). The famous Simms Family Eggnog was our family’s holiday hallmark, and no Christmas season would be complete without a bowl. If you think you hate eggnog, Silence promises to post the recipe and make a convert of you!

12. Baking. Hot bread, cookies, pies, cakes—mercy! The heavenly smell of baked goods promises a very, very merry Christmas for everyone. That’s why baked goods nosed out wet dog (also wet coats, mittens, and scarves) and apples, the other major contenders, for Christmas smell #12.

That’s my list. What’s yours? Please remind me of some of the iconic smells I’ve missed!



1. Eliza - December 2, 2010

Wow, I don’t know — I think you’ve got it well covered. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to enjoy an outdoor wood fire where we roasted chestnuts. The smell of the smoke made me want to do it every day. I also had the pleasure of sitting with a friend making citrus and clove pomanders the other day. I think I’ll go light so beeswax candles next to our Christmas tree!

Aaaaahhhh!!! Please invite us in!

2. Christine B. - December 2, 2010

Iconic Christmas smells and you left out “scent of road rage” and “eau de credit card bills”? How could you? Of course I much prefer the smell of a fresh cut evergreen, but to each their own.

Christine in Alaska, heartily sick of #9

Ha!!! Mercifully, we’ve only had a brief encounter with #9 so far this year, Christine! And I did try to leave out the more horrific scents, like paperwhites and essence of Wal-Mart sales…

3. h.ibrahim - December 3, 2010

Wouldn’t it be nice if I were to be able to celebrate christmas at home next year…..

With snow and a roaring fire!

4. jllopez1006 - November 14, 2011

This is a fabulous list, especially as I am trying to prepare myself for the holidays that I often dread.

It reminded me of the good things about the holidays, and all of the pleasant scents are definitely one of them. Though it is sad (in some respects) to say that most of these scents nowadays are experienced through seasonal candles, I appreciated the step back to reflect on where the inspiration for those Christmas candles originally came from.

Thanks for sharing. 🙂 And a good holiday season coming up to you.

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6. Sam - January 4, 2012

Shame I found this in January.
There’s a company called Dale Air that do all of these aromas for home use!

7. Nicki Blyden - January 8, 2012

what about people who live in places that don’t snow

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