Christmas Past

The fascinating stories behind your favorite Christmas traditions

The Scents of Christmas

sources of the scents of Christmas

Editor’s note: This guest post about the scents of Christmas is from contributor Michael Dolby. 

Whether it’s gingerbread, holly, or yes, even gift wrap, the scents of Christmas are a vital—but often overlooked—part of what makes the season merry and bright. Like that scene in Ratatouille, where the curmudgeonly critic has his heart melted by the taste of a dish that brings him back to childhood, so too can the scents of Christmas send us back through the years.

The scents of Christmas: Illuminated by the cold?

Nigel Slater in his book The Christmas Chronicles writes that “the cold air seems to illuminate scent.” He goes on to explain that for those who enjoy a colder climate during the dark of winter, certain scents are heightened. Our scent receptors become less responsive as they shelter from the cold, so those smells that do get through are even more powerful.

Christmas has many wonderful scents: cinnamon, peppermint, nutmeg, and woodsmoke, to name a few. The scents that are most important to me are those that transport me back to the Christmases I got to spend with my mother. She passed when I was 19. She loved Christmas and instilled that love in me. Each year I eagerly await the season because I know it’s a time I will be able to re-connect with those memories. Here are some of my personal favorite scents of Christmas.

Sugar beet

The scent that lets me know Christmas has arrived is very specific to the town where I live. It’s home to a factory that processes sugar beet. The scent permeates the town, especially during the yearly Christmas fair. It’s is a deep, sugary caramel scent that reminds me of home, and my mum.


The scent of pine is all but synonymous with Christmas, and it’s a particularly evocative scent for me. It reminds me of when I was young, maybe 10, and my mum gave me my own small section of our Christmas tree to decorate. I used my favorite ornaments to make a modest display on the tree all my own.

pine needles: one of the essential scents of Christmas

I remember one crazy year where I spent an entire weekend baking pine cones in my small gas oven, making them suitable for use as decorations. (It actually wasn’t my favorite scent!)


Even though coffee is an everyday drink, its scent on Christmas day is especially striking. My Christmas morning ritual includes preparing the first pot of coffee before anyone else in the house is awake. I usually accent it with cinnamon and nutmeg to make it extra festive. I remember doing this one Christmas morning, only a day after my first kiss with my girlfriend of nearly six years now.

coffee is one of the essential scents of Christmas

Gift wrap

Maybe you don’t think of gift wrap as having a scent, but think again. Look back into your memories. The scent of gift wrap can be as transporting as any of the others mentioned so far. Gift wrap, ribbon, adhesive tape: all of them have a unique scent. And, taken together, they can evoke strong memories of festive gift wrapping and Christmas mornings around the tree.

is gift wrap one of the scents of Christmas for you?

What are your favorite scents of Christmas?

These are just a few of my favorite scents of Christmas. Maybe some yours include things specific to your family traditions or part of the world. Share some in the Christmas Past Facebook Group! Maybe they’ll appear in a future post here at Christmas Past.

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