What does Christmas smell like?

christmas is a festivity of all senses

Christmas for me is walking through the woods just after it has snowed smelling fresh, clean, cool air. It’s the smell of Conifer branches when I make an Advent circle. While strolling through a Christmas market I am always enticed by the smell of mulled wine, punch or candied almonds. The smell of just baked biscuits, stollen, mince pies, and gingerbread wafts through my house continually during the four weeks running up to Christmas. If someone happens to pop by they are often greeted by such scents when I open the door and they almost always say something like: Mmh, it smells of Christmas! What scents do you associate with Christmas? Perhaps a visit to Delia Smith’s house where she prepares for a home-made Christmas will revive some scent memories. Watch video below.

The gifts of the three wise men

The three wise men brought gold, frankincense and Myrrh to the baby born in a manger. Frankincense were just as valuable as gold at this time. Frankincense was burned because the scent is then very strong and you can see it. The smoke rises which symbolizes prayers rising to God.

Scent as a symbol of wealth

By distributing a pleasant smell one used to demonstrate one’s wealth as scents were extremely expensive. In a way it is the same today, however there are such an array of scents unfortunately our noses haven´t been able to catch up with this explosion. We are not able to distinguish between many smells. There are of course exceptions to the rules such as perfumists and someliers. It is a pity we are not all taught how to distinguish and perceive smells in school, then perhaps we would be drawn to  a varied and balanced nutrition and not so much industrially prepared food.

How does our sense of smell work?

About 30 million sensory neurons lie in a strip of tissue at the back of our nose. Proteins called receptors are on the tips of these cells and their job is to bind odour molecules. These neurons are unique, because they are able to come into contact with the air. On them their are hair-like projections called cilia.  This leads to an increase of their surface area.  An odour molecule connects with these cilia and thereby triggers the neuron, this in turn induces you to perceive a smell by sending messages to the brain.

Why do we love the scents of Christmas?

The scents of Christmas are a promise of what is to come. They give is something to look forward to. The scents of Spring function in the same way. Nobody really reacts neutrally to smells, we are all conditioned by our experiences through childhood and later. Some scents are typcial to some cultures. Rosewater and orange oil are typical scents of an Oriental cuisine. If you are walking about a Christmas market as a child and you smell  mulled wine, punch, candles made from honey wax, Christmas foliage and biscuits and gingerbread and your mum says: “Doesn´t it smell good” . You will store these smells as this positive package in your brain. Christmas of course tastes and smells differently in each country that celebrates it. My sensory experiences are British and German. What are yours?


Make your house smell of Christmas


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Hoffmans, C. H. (2012, 23. Dezember). Wie duftet Weihnachten? Wenn Nasen Gefühle steuern. www.welt.de. https://www.welt.de/regionales/duesseldorf/article112152795/Wie-duftet-Weihnachten-Wenn-Nasen-Gefuehle-steuern.html

How does my sense of smell work? (2018, 22. August). www.ceenta.com. https://www.ceenta.com/news-blog/how-does-my-sense-of-smell-work

How does the sense of smell work? (2000, 1. April). health.howstuffworks.com. https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/question139.htm