Scents for the Holidays

By Aleta, Fragrance Contributor

Aleta is the associate editor of a national history magazine (World War II), and an unapologetic fragrance nerd. Growing up on a farm west of Portland, Oregon, she spent many summer nights attempting to make perfume by soaking flowers in cups of water (if only her mother had let her use the vodka). Her most prized possessions include a bottle of French cologne brought home by an American GI after World War II (L’Ardent Nuit by Cotay), a signed copy of Perfume: The Guide, and a handwritten “enjoy your purchase” note from perfumer Mandy Aftel. Other obsessions include lipstick, Pellegrino, Adirondack chairs, and yoga. You can find her at worldwarII.com.


Scents for the Holidays

My first college holiday season was…brief. November and December went by in a blur of studying, social events (okay dorm parties), and finals. My dad and I had to stop at the grocery store after he picked me up for winter break, and I realized that the campus bubble had utterly shielded me from the season–the music, the decorations, the food. Lesson learned: when you leave the nest, you either get yourself in the holiday spirit or it will pass you by.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to fell merry and bright this time of year is to–you guessed it–surrounding myself with nostalgic, festive fragrances. Bonus: the fragrance notes we often associate with the winter holidays are ones that play nicely with big family meals and intimate social gatherings, times when everyone would rather smell the turkey, fresh-baked gingerbread, or their glass of Riesling rather than someone’s boldfaced eau. Here are some of my favorite fragrances for the season, most of which are available as dry skin-soothing lotions, pick-me-up cleansers, and candles:

Years of making orange pomanders has left me with a serious citrus fixation every December. My favorite is Fresh Hesperides ($32.00) it balances the effervescence of grapefruit peel with a dose of sugar. Aftelier Candide ($45.00) is also gorgeous, tempering its zesty orange notes with a kick of pepper. Pacifica Blood Orange ($22.00) is perfect for purists, plus the brand is widely available and an absolute steal .

Evergreens feature prominently in Western holiday traditions; Yankee Candles fill in for the Douglass firs I grew up with, particularly Christmas Tree. Holiday Bayberry smells like the fresh-from-the-attic decorations did when I was growing up. It’s a hard note to wear on the skin, but Pacifica’s Avalon Juniper ($22.00) is beautiful. The resinous juniper is perfectly balanced with juicy grapefruit, simultaneously warm and fresh. Those who grew up in warmer climates may resonate more closely with Chanel Sycomore ($110.00), it’s a gorgeous balance between sap and smoke–meant for men, I think, but gorgeous on anyone, anytime.

Vanilla and spice abound during winter, and there are too many fragrance iterations to count. Personally, I like something just a touch inedible, like Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleu ($71.00). It has recently been reformulated, but I never smelled its previous iteration, so I am unabashedly smitten with the bottle I purchased this November. If you grew up with anise and almond extract in your holiday cookies, this one’s for you–especially if you went through a rebellious stage involving countless sticks of Nag Champa ($71.00) incense. Many also love Guerlain’s Shalimar ($55.00) and its many vanilla-spice offspring, though it’s not one that grabs me. You also can’t go wrong with Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar ($5.00), a gorgeous vanilla bean tempered with Basmati rice water and cinnamon. Spice lovers: try Pacifica’s clove-laden Madagascar Spice ($22.00).

Sometimes the brightest holiday memories attach themselves to a non-holiday scent. For me, it’s Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb ($100.00). Each year my parents would skip the Macy’s line for Santa and take me to Nordstrom to see Father Christmas. And in my mind, nothing conjures Nordstrom like Flowerbomb.

What scents keep you warm during these darkest months of the year? And for those who grew up in a non-western culture, I’d love to hear about the scents that speak to you during November and December!