Just the other day I was on the tube and after a couple of stops, I found myself back in nursery in front of a row of small coat hooks in the entry corridor loaded with tiny coats and scarfs. There was a drawing for each of us on each hook – the sun, a tree, a flower, a house… I had completely forgotten that I used to walk through there every morning when I was four, until someone brushed past me with that same fresh smell. It was uncanny.
Nothing evokes a memory like a smell. Images and sounds are very powerful, but all too often we hear a song on repeat or cradle a picture in our head a hundred times, until after a while their power wears off. A smell, however, you cannot reproduce. So when it suddenly tickles your nose again, you’re not only remembering, you’re almost physically back to the moment when you smelled it the first time.
Among some of my favourite smells there’s the mixed aroma of orange peel, spruce, kitchen baking and crackling fire, which welcomed me on Christmas morning when I was little. So this year I’m trying to cheat my own senses with three easy diy tricks to make your own nostalgic Christmas scents…
1. DIY CHRISTMAS TREE SMELL
If you really crave that lovely pungent spruce sap smell, fashion yourself some!
Chuck all the ingredients into a pot full of water and bring to a low boil. Then let it simmer slowly the whole day – make sure to add more water and a few more drops of oil from time to time. This is a great trick if you haven’t had time to get your Christmas tree yet, or are sensible and have an eco-friendly one instead.
- a pot
- a couple of small branches of spruce or pine
- a couple tsps of oil (I used pure almond oil)
- some spices like cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, and/or fresh bay leaves
- some water
2. MAKE SOME POMANDERS
Coming to us directly from the Middle Ages, a time when people were doing everything to cover up all sorts of stench, pomanders make great Christmas tree baubles or lovely presents for teachers and grannies. They are a bouquet of oranges and cloves and look lovely in your underwear drawer when completely dry.
- an orange or a lemon
- 60g of cloves
- washi tape (but masking tape will also do)
- a knitting needle of standard size
- 4 tbsps Orris root powder a.k.a. Iris root powder (optional)
- a muslin
Stick some washi tape around an orange crossing it at the top and bottom so as to divide the skin in four wedges.
Pierce the skin with the knitting needle and insert a clove into each hole until you have completely covered each wedge (be careful when you do it with lemons as their skin is much harder so they juice up a lot).
If you can find it, sprinkle the cloved orange with Orris root powder – it’s a strong natural perfume fixative and will help preserve the pomander’s smell.
Wrap it in the muslin and let it rest in a hot dry place for at least a week or so (longer lasting results obtained with 3 weeks).
Then take off the tape and wrap a ribbon around the naked orange skin.
3. GET YOUR CHRISTMAS FIRE STARTED
And finally, if you are lucky enough to live in a house with a fireplace, make your own fragrant fire starters this Christmas, they’re a green alternative to chemical lighter fluids and make your home smell gorgeous as they get the logs going.
- some old newspapers
- a ball of natural raffia
- a few small dried pine cones
- a few small branches of spruce or pine
- some orange peel (dried or not)
- some cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, bay leaves, sage and rosemary
Gather some herb twigs, a small branch of spruce and a couple of dried pine cones in an old newspaper. Wrap them up like a giant candy and tie the ends with the raffia. Store them upwards in a wooden crate next to the fireplace so they’ll dry nicely.
Photography: Dee Ramadan
Styling: Margherita Poggiali