Before I went to sleep last night, I spent some time with an old friend: Robert Ruark.
He wrote memorably and well about Christmas. I like something he said, in one of the “Old Man and the Boy” essays, about the smell of Christmas:
The old-fashioned Christmas smell was predominantly that of crushed evergreens against the constant resiny scent of a snapping fire. One was a cool, smell, the other hot, but both joined forces in delightful companionship. This aromatic back drop was overlaid by the heady odors that drifted from the kitchen, the sage which went into the turkey stuffing predominating.
The whole was tinctured with spices and by alcohol, because brandies and wines were lavishly used in the preparation of sauces and in building the fruit cakes. There was, as well, an infusion of tropical scent, as the infrequent Christmas citrus fruits the opulent golden oranges added an oily sharpness to the mixture. This was counterbalanced by the clean, cidery bite of the hard, white-fleshed, scarlet apples. Bright Christmas candies the clover-shaped and heart-shaped sugary ones you never saw at any other time of the year and the striped hard ones with the soft centers helped the greasy Brazil nuts along, as did the winy aroma of the great clusters of raisins, sugary-sticky to the touch. The spices that went into the eggnog or the hot Tom and Jerrys stood off the warm friendship of the rum that gave character to the cream.
It’s almost like being there. Ruark had been dead for several years when I was a boy, but I remember similar Christmas smells; maybe not as many, or as strong, but I do remember them from my childhood. I never really got the taste for raisins, but we always had the Christmas Hershey’s Kisses; somehow, I remember them tasting better than they do now.
These days, people buy chemicals in a bottle and call that the smell of Christmas.
Maybe it isn’t all bad: today, the Old Man probably would have lived another ten or twenty years. I wonder if the Old Man would have thought it was worth the trade, though.
(The quote above is from a not-terribly-well OCRed version of The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older at archive.org. Here’s another one for you, if you’ll hold still for it, though it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas:
Perhaps I am not very clear here, but what I am getting at is that my teen-age group possessed, legally, all the death-dealing, injury-wielding weapons that are now owned clandestinely by the “bad” kids. There was a certain pride in being trusted. My cousins and friends and I used to go off on a Saturday picnic into the local wilds with enough armament to conquer the county rifles, shotguns, knives, scout axes and were not regarded as a serious menace to the community. Or to each other.