Updated: Feb 27
Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of "The Scented Letter"
When my mom brought home a plastic imposter one year, it felt like the Grinch had stolen Christmas. The vegetarian-wannabe-environmentalist in me should have been happy that no more trees were being cut down on my behalf, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was missing. Even if the Grinch hadn’t stolen Christmas itself, he had, at the very least, stolen the smell of Christmas. The new assemble-at-home tree may have had a passable visual likeness to a real tree but it definitely did not have any olfactory similarity. This tree didn't smell of fresh pine needles, it didn’t really smell at all – perhaps a faint plastic aroma if anything. At the time I wasn’t aware of just how important that smell of fresh pine was to my Christmas experience and it was not until years later that I would realise that the lack of that smell was the only real downside of not having a real Christmas tree.
When I moved to New York, I lived in a studio apartment in the East Village that was across the street from a sidewalk-turned-Christmas-tree-showroom. The showroom sprung up every year at the end of November as if by Christmas magic and I loved walking through it, inhaling deeply as I went. That was where I bought my own Christmas tree for the first time – a little table-top cutie. My apartment was the classic NYC shoebox you’ve probably heard about and those trees were a bit expensive, so a mini was all I could really fit and afford. It smelled just as good as the trees we had when I was a kid and that scent made my shoebox feel like a home for the first time. It was also that year that I came to understand the main reason my mom made the switch to synthetic – real trees shed like a big hairy dog. (I have no idea how my mom kept our house so clean all those years with the real trees – I was finding pine needles until the day I moved out of that apartment.)
For years I continued to buy a tree from that same Christmas tree vendor, even after I moved many subway stops away. The smell of those fresh trees brought with them the fond memories of Christmases past and that first little tree in my first studio apartment, decorated with colourful construction paper ornaments and garlands made of shiny metallic ribbon.
A few years later I moved to London. I was incredibly homesick for the better part of 6 months, seriously considering moving back to the states. That Christmas I received the wonderful gift of Diptyque’s 2015 Christmas edition pine-scented candle, Sapin, and I
absolutely loved it. I lit the candle every night for weeks and found immense comfort in the rich pine scent, reminiscent of holidays spent surrounded by friends and family. That candle got me through the long, cold winter nights that first year in London. And it was the beginning of my slight obsession with pine-scented candles, which I light whenever I’m in the mood to indulge my Christmas nostalgia.