FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Smells of Christmas Past
Issue#20- December-January 2001-02
smells of Christmas are overpowering in their
poignancy! The detailed memories they evoke are
incredibly sharp. That rich melding of scents is nonexistent
in todays superstores and mile-wide food markets where there
is more packaging than nutrition on the shelves. That wonderful,
personal, tactile experience is gone. Everything is wrapped, boxed,
cryovacd, waxed and sterile.
youre lucky enough to date back to the decade famous for tunes
like "Love Songs of the Nile," "You Are My Lucky
Star" and "September In The Rain," youll surely
remember cellophane and rayon. Youll also be able to program
your nose for a trip back to the corner stores of the thirties,
where a hundred odours combined to excite the taste buds.
were layers of smells, starting with the husky, dark scent of Brazil
nuts in open burlap sacks alongside the filberts, pale almonds,
and huge clunking walnuts. Even the smell of their hemp housings
lent a masculine, international flavour to the seasonal bouquet.
strata of scent came from the citrus fruits. The small square papers
that wrapped each individual lemon, orange and grapefruit were steeped
in an oily pungency borrowed from their acidy skins. There was an
acrid, rather private scent from cold grapes, all rosy-red and slightly
squared from having been packed tightly in flat wooden boxes in
California. The clean lumber smell of the crates echoed that of
the sawdust-strewn floor, and bounced rough through the nostrils,
with all the fresh fragrance of ruddy-cheeked Macintosh apples or
those bright green ones, and dull little brown ones they called
there were pineapples with spiky green fronds at one end and skins
made of dozens of little Chrysler symbols. Just to see them there,
glorifying the small spaces of those moist little stores with their
makeshift bin and shelf arrangements, was a feast for the eye! Even
if there was no hope of experiencing them first-hand; just knowing
they existed was a comfort to the youngster with the googley eyes
and the rumbling tummy.
the bouquet of aromas, the festival of textures and colours! And
from far-off lands of Bedouins and palm trees, vast sandy deserts
and veiled harem girls, came the moist and glistening dates, dried
figs, and red pomegranates filled with ruby seeds and pale membranes.
These caught my fancy most of all! I could see, behind my eyelids,
camel caravans in swaying, tasselled regalia with dusky, turbaned
riders under sundown skies.
glass jars held shredded coconut or big wet muscat raisins, glossy
fat prunes, licorice allsorts, humbugs, chocolate creams and red
or green hard candies, like the ones Santa left in our stockings.
Their delicious promise joined the waftings of fresh-roasted coffee
from the grinder corner, and the look of the polished brown beans
told how theyd come all the way from the high Andes of South
America. You could picture small grey burros winding carefully down
the mountainside, under their burden of bean sacks.
late December, big bouquets of dried sage, garlic strings, cinnamon
sticks, whole nutmegs and cloves, lent their herbal and spicy fillips
to that aromatic tapestry. I can remember the thrill of walking
in to the jingle of the doors tiny silver and black bell.
It was a joy and a luxury in the realm of fantasy-feasting.
you were able to take home for less than two dollars filled our
brown paper sacks; things that burst into a new riot of fragrance
in the warmth of your own kitchen, to be reverently put away in
a cupboard or ice box, or relegated to the cool darkness of the
me, the character of Christmas, to this day, depends on the olfactory
sense. What would it be without the glorious clean smell of fresh
fir tree sap and the perfume of spruce or pine needles indoors?
is another key essence in the sniffing-jar of memory. What child
has not succumbed to the smelling of new print in textbooks, coloured
inks on paper, or the funny papers, especially on damp days? Putting
new paper goods to the nose to better know their pedigree is universal
with kids! Heres where the "Treasure Box" came in.
year, the Goodfellows of Windsor delivered their magic to poor children
item that made Christmas joyful and bounteous. It came in the shape
of a red net stocking filled with trinkets, nuts, fruits, and candies.
But down in the toe nestled a small box about two inches square,
spangled with such brilliant colours that when you moved it, it
made your eyes jump. The red, green, black, and gold foil patterns
caused an optical illusion when you trembled it to hear the opulent
sound of the ten gleaming new copper pennies inside. A person was
suddenly rich as Croesus and the box became a toy itself
a treat for the eyes! The Goodfellows even managed to include one
of those jumbo peppermint canes you dont see anymore, and
there were tiny gilt bells where the drawstrings tied at the top
of the stocking, so you could hear real music when you wiggled it
and set the "fairy balls" a-ringing.
still smell coloured Christmas packages, especially if, when you
move them, they make your eyes jump.
for a few final odours of Nostalgia: the main one had to do with
Mothers sense of household order. Since she always washed
and waxed the hardwood floors the day before Christmas, Johnsons
paste wax in the orange and blue tin has to be an essential aroma
of the season, along with the wisp of coal gas merging with the
benison of heat from the baseboard registers, and the magnificent
essence of the roasting turkey or chicken, a touch of steaming turnip,
potato, creamed onions, and cranberries popping in their tart juices,
on the back of the old enamel Jewel stove. Waftings of mince pies
weaving-in with the teaser of the stuffed and browning bird in the
oven, give you the epicurean delights of the festive season, in
thats missing in the distinct but subtle potpourri of memory,
is the scent of excitement and anticipation as the freshly-washed
heads hit their pillows, and the ears straining for even one small
tap of Santas tiny boot, or a footfall from Dancer, Prancer
or Vixen on our snow-covered roof! How deep the electric darkness
how silent the holy night
that lean but magic Christmas Eve
of 1930, on Lillian Street!
from "Border City Sketches: A Walk Through the Thirties"
written and published by Corky Deir Rawson, 1991. Limited numbers
vailable for sale at The Walkerville Times Book and Gift Shop for