Thursday, 24 December 2015

Scented Christmas Memories

When I was a child the scent of Christmas was something that I didn't give a second thought to, I was more concerned with whether I was going to get He-Man's Castle Grayskull. Look, cartoons and action figures were big business in the eighties. As I grew up however I realised that those scents had become part of me, and within them the memories of my childhood were stored. Christmas was a big thing in my house, I even spoke to my brother for one day a year, although it was probably a grunt. My parents gave us everything that we could have wanted, but what are the scents that have stuck in my head twenty years later?

At Christmas my Grandad Bill used to come to stay with us for a few weeks. He was a cantankerous old man, which is probably where I get it from. He used to smoke a pipe and I remember the smell that it gave out. There was none of the acrid burning that you get with a cigarette, but more a smooth enveloping aroma that was strangely comforting. Golden Virginia was his tobacco of choice, a rich fragrance with a honeyed touch. I love the smell of a pipe even today.

My mother was born during the Second World War and my father in 1931, so the style of our Christmas tree decorations were rooted in the 1950s. The smell of the tinsel and the fake tree was almost electric. You had that plastic scent which seemed to be charged with a foil enriched static, and if you went too close your hair really would stand on end. The smell of tinsel, and especially Lameta gently warming on the tree, takes me straight back to a childhood in Wales.

As a child I was always fascinated to know where my father and grandfather went on Christmas Eve, and sometimes Christmas morning. It was actually just the local social club, St Joseph’s, but I can still remember the smell of tobacco, whisky and beer that seemed to surround them both in an armour when they came home, and they needed it. They were always late, and it was usually the first argument of the Christmas season.

The Christmas Cake was a big tradition in our house, as it probably is in many others during the run up to Christmas. Lots of people harp on about the scent of the “rum infused fruit gently mixing with the buttery sweetness” … but I don’t. My memory is of the magic that happened when the tin went into the oven. It always had a layer of newspaper tied around it to help the cake cook more evenly. HOWEVER, I remember the smell that used to fill the kitchen as the newspaper browned and became brittle, a combination of newsprint and an almost kiln-dried oakiness. That is my favourite Christmas scent.

Whatever you’re doing for Christmas, wherever you are, and whoever you’re spending it with, just take a moment to breathe in the fragrances that will surround you, and see if they bring back any memories. Merry Christmas!!

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