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

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!


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Olfactory Obsessed Avatar

My favorite December fumes:

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice- smells like Christmas trees in a snow covered forest

Comme des Garcons Incense Avignon – smells like Midnight Mass

Parfumerie Generale Un Crime Exotique – Smells like I just baked an army of gingerbread men

CB I Hate Perfume Winter 1972 – the smell of snow, wet mittens, and a silent night

Demeter Snow – smells exactly like snow, too bad it doesn’t last long

Alkemia Falling Stars on Winter Solstice- smells like ripe roses under a blanket of snow

Cloon Keen Aftelier Castana – smells like roasted chestnuts

Lizzie Avatar

I’ve been trying out a sample of Shalimar recently, but I’m also not in love with it. I think L’heure Bleu sounds lovely though, I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the post!

Olfactory Obsessed Avatar

Sorry to butt in but I’m a Guerlain fan. Have you tried Shalimar Parfum Initial? Shalimar didn’t speak to me as well. But Shalimar Parfum Initial was more up my alley! Shalimar Parfum Initial has subtle hints of Shalimar but with a modern sensibility. Thierry Wasser created Parfum Initial to appeal to the younger generation. You might like SPI.

Another Guerlain favorite of mine is Samsara. It’s a sensual, sophisticated sweet woody oriental. Another perfect one for winter.

L Avatar

I love perfumes with scents of rose, particularly Moroccan Rose in December.

All year long, though, I cannot go wrong with bergamot. Do you have any suggestion for (mainly) bergamot-scented, or even pure bergamot perfume? I nearly run out of my current one.

Penemuel Avatar

Sad to see that not a single Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab or Black Phoenix Trading Post scent was mentioned, considering they have special limited editions every Yule, with seasonal-appropriate scents in a huge variety. There’s always something for everyone.

Shi Avatar

I’ve been loving Thierry Mugler’s Angel. I used to hate it but in the past few years, i’ve found myself moving away from overly citrus-y or floral scents and looking for very unique orientals. Angel is extremely unique in that its an explosive gourmand but is not overly sweet (I’m looking at you, Pink Sugar). I’ve never smelled anything like it before, the drydown is beautiful and the vanilla, chocolate, honey, and berry notes keep me toasty!

Guerlain’s Shalimar is a really nicely crafted scent but I tend to shy away from any fragrances with a noticeable amount of iris. Aleta, how do you feel about Hanae Mori’s Butterfly?

AnGeLwInGz Avatar

Fall and winter scents hold a special place in my heart. I like vanilla orientals for this time of year. Some of my faves are Dior Midnight Poison, Dior Hypnotic Poison, Dior Addict, Thierry Mugler Angel (a staple of course) and Laura Mercier Creme de Pistache.

Ryou Avatar

I grew up in a country where seasons don’t exist, or if it does, it consists of summer and summer. Because of that, I don’t understand the concept of wearing different colors and scents only on certain seasons.

I now live in a country that has four seasons and I still wear sticky sweet fragrance all year long, as for some reason it works best with my body chemistry. My current favorite is Cotton Candy from Urban Rituelle, but I’m thinking of branching out to more grown-up scents still in the sweet gourmand family. Hanae Mori Butterfly might be a good one. Any suggestion would be appreciated! 🙂

Shi Avatar

If you don’t already own it, Angel is THE gourmand to wear. Aquolina’s Pink Sugar is also very popular among the younger crowdm as is Viva La Juicy. I have Hanae Mori’s Butterfly and it’s a sweet scent also (albeit not as sweet as Pink Sugar).

If you get the chance, give the 2005 formulation of Miss Dior Chérie EdP a sniff. The initial spray is deceptively citrusy and musky but after dry down, it becomes a much less aggressive sweet scent (with caramel popcorn notes!). I haven’t tried the new formulation but the 2005 one has excellent staying power.

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