Scents of Christmas

When does Christmas begin for you? Is it when your local town turns on the Christmas lights? When Costa and Starbucks announce the release of their seasonal spiced latte? Perhaps it’s when you hear, for the first of many times each year, the voices of Mariah Carey or Wham. Whatever it may be, we cannot forget that Christmas would have none of its essential beauty or vitality of character without its smells. What would a Christmas market be without its mélange of enticing aromas; without the wafting delights of incenses, mulled wine, and hot sugar? What a Christmas tree without the freshness of pine? Or the joy of seasonal decorations and cooking without orange, cinnamon, and ginger? We believe that scent above all things embodies the Christmas spirit, giving our favourite season that special magic we all know and love.

It is a well known fact that our sense of smell is inextricable from our memory: catching a waft of a certain aroma in the air can send us flying into the past, our noses taking us back more intimately and more lucidly to deep-seated scenes of memory or times of emotion than any other sense. Christmas is a time of year that plays directly into the hands of memory: it happens at the same time each year, is often celebrated in ritual fashion by individual families, and is marked by the (re)appearance of traditional foods, scents, music, television, and activities. How often do you celebrate Christmas without reminiscing about or comparing it with your previous experiences of the holiday? The annual repetition of Christmas and its associated practices imbue the holiday with layers of memory, which is part of the reason why it is so well-loved and cherished.

The aromas of Christmas are so powerful because they activate our memories not only of last year’s celebrations, but the year before that, and before that still. The scents that we associate with Christmas rarely change between our earliest childhood memories and those we have of last year; this is the essence of tradition. This aspect of the holiday and the way it comes into contact with every single sense we possess works to memorialise a time of year during which we undergo a number of sensory and emotional experiences that are not found elsewhere and cannot be evoked at another time than that which we know to be Christmas. When it comes to memory, our noses lead the way!