December 10, 2010

Smells of Christmas - Bonnie Way

I'm sitting at my desk, opening my email while I roll a Mandarin orange with one hand.  As soon as my thumb breaks the skin, the bright, citrus smell of the orange takes me back to my childhood... a dimly lit dining room, darkness outside the windows, toast in the toaster, and the Christmas tree in the corner, lights on, presents peeking out beneath.  It isn't any particular day, just one of many days like that—a breakfast in December—yet that's what the smell of Mandarin oranges reminds me of.

The first Christmas that we decided to get an artificial tree instead of a real tree, it was the smell that I missed the most.  A real tree fills the whole house with that fresh, piney, outdoors smell as soon as it is hauled inside.  Mom tried burning pine-scented candles to mimic that scent while we decorated our new plastic tree, but it just didn't compare.

My aunt and uncle are usually the ones in charge of cooking the Christmas turkey.  They know what time to put the bird in the oven, when to baste it, when it's ready to eat.  Each time they open the oven door to check on the bird, the smell of roast turkey fills my grandmother's house.  It makes us all start drooling and we stare, stomachs growling, at my aunt and uncle debating whether the turkey is ready to be carved or not.

Smells are a powerful tool for a writer, yet one that we seldom use. I'm more likely to describe how something looks in my writing than how it smells. Yet smells are perhaps more strongly attached to memories and feelings than are sights.  Christmas is, as I've noted, a season of smells.  What smells make you think of Christmas and Christmases past?

~ © Bonnie Way,


  1. Smells of Christmas... a few of my favorites include:

    Spicy cloves and cinnamon

    Freshly cut spruce,

    Apple cider steaming on the stove,

    Wet mittens - truly - they remind me of those fun winter play times making forts and snowmen as a child,

    The peeling from a Japanese mandarin orange

    Roasting turkey

    Thanks for the fun posting, Bonnie!

  2. so true! smells have a huge emotional impact. Great post

  3. Apple cider for sure! :) I think Christmas is the most "smelly" holiday. :)

  4. Bonnie: You make a great point--we need to describe smells more in our writing.

    My favorite holiday smells are pine, sage, and chocolate.


  5. Hi Bonnie:

    I must admit I envy you and your respondents your inventory of smells that evoke precious memories. I'm clearly missing a great part of life.

    My sense of smell seems generally intact, but is rarely a memory activator. However, I'll go with chocolate at any time of year!

    Maybe I'm trying to avoid the past. Perhaps that needs some research!

    Thanks for the insights.

  6. Pine, turkey, cinnamon and wood smoke!


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