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The Nose Knows Christmas

December 3, 2012
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger , OVParent

Freshly cut greens, spices, oranges, peppermint ... the glorious scents of Christmas! What is your favorite?

There's usually one Christmas scent so special that it brings back great memories. When decorations appear with the back-to-school items, we become holiday weary. Yet, catch a sniff of that special Christmas scent, and the holiday spirit is rejuvenated.

For several weeks I've conducted an informal survey asking all I meet, "What scent do you associate with Christmas?"

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The overwhelming answer among school-age kids was peppermint. They think about candy canes. I learned there is a candy cane eating protocol. Some say to only unwrap part of the candy cane, leaving the wrapper as a sticky-prevention holder.

Others preferred a big fat peppermint stick totally stripped of all wrapping. They didn't seem to mind the sticky peppermint goatee or the red stripes of heavenly stickiness running down their arms. Any uneaten portion? Park it on a plate.

I was surprised at the universal response from my adult children. Fresh popcorn is their Christmas association. Each year they strung popcorn for decorating our inside tree as well as outside decoration for the birds. After supper a few days before Christmas, I put the hot air corn popper on a table, spread a sheet on the floor and started the popper. They sat on the sheet with a box of tissues in case of stuck fingers and strung the popcorn. I popped just enough corn for one evening. When they ran out of popped corn, they put their strings in zipper bags. The next night I popped more. They never tired of the activity, and I was a happy mama with minimal stress during evenings leading to Christmas Eve.

The majority of men in my informal sampling believed that scent of fresh cut greens was the best scent of Christmas. The "seasoned" citizens usually offered stories to qualify their answers. One gentleman born in North Carolina mountains said that his family always spent Christmas with his grandmother. She kept her fresh cut, fully decorated pine tree in an unheated room. On Christmas morning his grandmother opened the door to the Christmas tree room just long enough for each kid to run in, grab a present, and then fly out to the heated room. The scent of fresh pine wafted out with each opening and closing of the door making the anticipation even greater. Although today he has an artificial tree, he still fills a basket with fresh cut evergreens.

I spoke with a gentleman who works at an upscale gift shop in the historic Williamsburg, Va. area. One of his top-selling items is handmade pine scented soap that travelers take home for the holiday season. He said people yearn for natural pine scent - not the artificially scented candles that cause people with sensitivities to cough, sneeze and have watery eyes. He claimed that after discovering and enjoying the natural scent of the pine soap, more than one tourist confided that artificial pine air fresheners remind them of service station restrooms.

Just as pine was popular with men, spice was the overwhelming choice of women. Some said cinnamon, but the majority agreed that it was the combination of cinnamon, clove and allspice sometimes blended with orange or apple that is their favorite. I would agree as when I think of the sweet smells of Christmas, I am ready for a slice of mince pie. One seasoned citizen said her Danish grandmother made a Christmas dessert of dried fruit mixed with spices. For her it was aroma of the plumping of the fruits with apple juice and spices that signaled Christmas.

Making pomander balls is an easy way to bring the scent of holidays into your home. Besides popcorn stringing, this was a favorite craft with my kids. All it takes is cloves, a piece of fruit, a very big nail for poking holes, and a wet cloth in case of sticky hands. Sticking cloves in an orange, lemon or apple is a good way to use a "tired" piece of fruit. As the fruit dries it shrinks. If you don't want to look at shrinking fruit, cut it up and put it out as a treat for the birds. They peck around the cloves.

Simmering potpourri is a simple, inexpensive way to bring the sweet smells of Christmas to your home. Make it according to what you like. As a rule, all the ingredients are in the kitchen. If not, get creative and substitute! Here are recipes I've enjoyed. A small crock pot is ideal for the simmering. Be sure to monitor when using a saucepan on the stove.

For a citrus scent use 1 orange cut in wedges, 1 lemon cut in wedges, 1 bay leaf, 1 cinnamon stick, and 4 tablespoons of cloves. Squeeze the citrus wedges into the saucepan, add rinds, spices and cover with water. Heat to just a boil, stir a bit and turn down to simmer. Add water as needed.

Apple wedges and a cinnamon stick, or an orange cut in wedges and one cinnamon stick simmered in water give a single scent.

Don't have all the whole spices? Powdered spices work in a simmering potpourri. Mix 3 tablespoons cinnamon, 3 tablespoons cloves, 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 2 teaspoons ginger and 2 tablespoons apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice. Stir powdered spices into 1 cup of water. Add that water to 5 cups of water. Heat and then simmer. Add water as necessary. For a little gift, package the powdered spices and create a "how to use" card.

The ultimate simmering potpourri is also a crowd-pleasing mulled cider. To 1/2 gallon cider or apple juice add 1 apple sliced in rounds, 1 orange sliced in rounds, 3 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 6 allspice berries and 1 2- inch piece of ginger root slice in rounds. Simmer uncovered. Serve in mugs and enjoy the sweet scents of Christmas.

- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, a novel titled "Fire in Progress." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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