How is the Authentic Christmas Scent?

Thursday, 13 December, 2012

Scent is a great booster of the Holiday Atmosphere. We have conducted a Poll about ‘What is the Authentic Christmas Scent?’ This article discusses the results.

The Poll was performed from December 14th to 19th. Around 400 respondents from all over the world participated. 69% of them with a Christian Cultural Background; 25% ‘Non religious’ and the rest with other religious origins. 18% are aged 18 to 34; 36% are 35 to 44; 29% are 45 to 54 and 17% are 55 or older. 59% of the respondents are Male and 41% Female.

The main results of the Poll are the following:

60% chose Christmas Tree. People from all European Countries and North America preferred the coniferous smell as The Christmas Scent Icon. The Christmas tree tradition spread from Northern Europe to all European Countries, North America and all over the world. Today both natural and artificial trees are used, and often the authentic coniferous scent is not easy to find.

32% chose Spices: Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Ginger, and Cardamom. Most of them are from France, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Germany, USA and Australia. Thesehistorically luxurious ingredients are used in many typical Christmas recipes from different Countries.

20% chose Open Fire. People from all European countries and the USA like this iconic scent. Many Christmas rituals in Europe and North America are performed next to the fireplace. Therefore, the smoky and woody smell of an open fire is one of the favourites Christmas smells.

19% chose Frozen Air. Mainly people from the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and the USA. In Europe and North America, Christmas celebrations are associated to winter and the cold weather. Therefore, the ‘scent’ of ‘cold air’, snow and ice is associated to the Holidays.

16% chose Apple & Cinnamon. The majority are from Netherlands, UK, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, France, Denmark, USA and Australia. Also people from Spain that moved to the UK. The traditional English apple pie is made with good apples, spices (mainly cinnamon), figs, raisins and pears. It migrated to North America with the colonization and it is now a typical Christmas dessert in the USA.

15% chose ‘Mulled wine’ / ‘Glühwein’. Almost 90% of them come from Northern and Eastern European Countries: Netherlands, UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Russia and Sweden. The rest are from the USA or have moved there. Spiced wines are flavourful because they are usually served warm and include sugar and a wide variety of aromatic spices, like cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, cardamom. Citrus fruits and spirits such as rum, brandy or vodka can also be added.

14% chose Orange & Clove. They are mainly respondents from the Netherlands, UK and USA. This iconic scent comes from the tradition of the Christmas orange pomander: an orange with whole dried cloves cured dry, and may last several years. It freshens and perfumes the air. In the middle ages it was believed to have medicinal properties and it was used to keep illness away.

10% chose Gingerbread. Around half of them are from the USA and a variety of Northern and Eastern European Countries including Sweden, Germany, UK, France, Holland, Slovakia, and Russia. Gingerbread has a special scent because it is made with a combination of spices and ginger. It is often used for Christmas decorations, so it creates a nice scented atmosphere around it.

10% chose Dried Fruits: Raisins, dried figs, peaches, apricots or plums.They are mainly popular in Spain, Italy, France and India.  Fresh fruits were not available in the Christmas period in Europe so they were consumed as dried fruits.

8% chose ‘Panettone’ / ‘Weihnachtsstollen’ / ‘Kerststol’. The majority of them are from Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Spain. The rest are from South America. These sweet breads, typical from Italy, Germany and Holland, contain chopped candied fruits: orange and lemon, as well as raisins, nuts and spices.

6% chose ‘Speculaas’ / ‘Spekulatius’. All of them are from Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France. These typical Dutch spicy biscuits are made from white flour, brown sugar, butter and spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. In the USA, New Zealand and Australia, these biscuits are often sold as ‘Dutch Windmill cookies’.

5% chose Christmas pudding. They are mainly from the UK, India, Ireland, Australia and the USA. Christmas pudding comes from medieval England and this tradition was spread in many countries. With varied recipes, it has a very special smell because of the flavourful ingredients that include brown sugar, suet, sultanas, raisins, currants, flour, breadcrumbs, chopped almonds, lemon zest, eggs, cinnamon, juice of citrus fruits, brandy, rum, nutmeg and other spices. Traditionally it is soaked in brandy and lit to be served on fire, with a blue and yellow flame.

Other Christmas Scents:

In the final open question, respondents were allowed to add their favourite Christmas scents not included in the closed questions of the Poll. There are many of them but the following is a summary of the most interesting:

  • Mandarins; Christmas tree + mandarin.
  • Moss, green moss.
  • Open-sunshine air, Snow melting under a bright sunny day.
  • New stuff (presents: clothing, toys, etc).
  • Cut wood: fir, pine.
  • Sugar cookie, Snickerdoodle.
  • Berries; cranberry sauce.
  • Roasted meet, duck, goose, turkey, foie gras.
  • Grandmother's soup,  Ravioli in tomato sauce, Cannelloni.
  • Marzipan, Coconut, Chocolate.
  • Saffron, Thyme, Sage.
  • Champagne, Cava, Warm Cider, Sherry.
  • Candles; blown out candles.


As one of the respondents mentioned, probably there is not a simple ‘authentic’ Christmas smell. Because it is not just about the ingredients but about the whole experience: with both sensorial and emotional elements.

The authentic Christmas experience can be a symphony of scented notes that inspire us and remind our childhood and the family atmosphere at home. Loving and feeling a beloved member of a family is probably the Universal Experience we are looking for.


Cristina Sala, December 2012


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