What’s the best holiday smell?

A recent reader comment made me ponder that ever-important piece of human equipment, the nose:

My husband likes the smell of wood burning smoke, but I don’t like it. I asked if he had ever seen a candle with wood burning flavor. They usually only put good aromas in candles.

This made me smile, though I would be on the husband’s side.  I happen to love the smell of burning wood, but I find it is a scent with many detractors as well.

I even like the smell of burning coal, though I detest the smell of cigarette smoke. Funny how burning different dead plants can create such opposite responses in a person.

Chestnuts Roasting
Chestnuts, roasting

Sense of smell, or lack of it, can affect you in ways both serious and benign. Not being able to smell spoiled food or dangerous chemicals could get you into trouble. Not being able to smell, say due to a cold, can affect your experience of taste.

Not being able to smell can also be a blessing–when you’re in close quarters with someone who went a little heavy on the cologne or perfume, or as a non-smoker in a smoking zone.

To briefly tie this post into the Amish, I recently went for a jog during which I passed a farmer spreading manure on his winter fields.  I didn’t check if he had a clothespin on his nose, but I would have.  Spreading manure is a seasonal task for Amish farmers, and I guess they must be used to it.  Some farm stinks are worse than others, that is for sure.

Some people even have a permanent inability to smell, known as permanent anosmia.  Though that might seem useful in the above situation, I feel sorry for anyone in this boat.

One reason is that smell has strong connections with memory.  Have you ever caught a wisp of a scent that instantly took you back to a memory from childhood you hadn’t recalled in ages?

With Christmas around the corner–a time heavily associated with (usually happy) memories–I got to thinking about holiday smells.  There are a lot tied to the season, be it a special dish, the scent of a Fraser fir, or citrus.

My favorite holiday scent is probably what I opened this post with–the smoky aroma of a fire on the hearth.  How about you?

roast chestnuts photo: bittermelon/flickr

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply to Debbie H Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. Mary Yoder

      Best Holiday Smell

      Mine would most likely be a women thing! CHOCOLATE!!! The kind that is a fondue and you dip stuff into it…yuum! I love wood burning smells too, and all citrus or cinnamon…

    2. Kendall

      farm smells

      I LOVE the smell of manure! We grew up on my grandfather’s farm and my mom refused to use AC, so we had windows open all summer and poo-smell filling the house. And oddly enough I love the smell even to this day. Although it isn’t a holiday smell 🙂 the best holiday smell HAS to be the turkey cooking! Or the tree! Or the pies cooking! Oh, forget it, there are too many! Merry Christmas! I love your blog 🙂

      1. Stephanie Rollins


        I agree. It brings back great memories. I also think they need to have a perfume the scent of freshly tilled dirt.

      2. Thanks Kendall, Merry Christmas to you too. Your comment reminded me of something I read once in a book which referenced an article called “How to Tell If You’re a Real Lancaster Countian.”

        “Do you turn up your nose and hurry past an Italian restaurant, but inhale deeply when driving past a freshly manured field?”

        I don’t know if that is a fair way to tell, but I found it amusing. I guess some scents are just in the blood, and it often has to do with where you are raised. https://amishamerica.com/how-to-tell-if-youre-a-real-lancaster-countian/

    3. Juanita Cook

      I love the smell of bread & pies baking in the oven. They make the whole house smell so good. Also l;ove the smell of wood burning.

    4. lincolnlady1121

      The fellow that lives in the apartment above me puts manure on his garden every year. I don’t care for the smell, but he says it makes the garden better and as he shares his vegetables with all of us, I accept it.

      I love the smell of baking the Christmas cookies, pies, breads and fudge. It smells so good.

    5. Nancy @ A Rural Journal

      Cookies or bread baking in the oven — hands down! 🙂

    6. Dale

      A rose by any...

      Ah, but they do make candles with the scent of burning wood and the wick is made of wood so they crackle too!
      The sense of smell is one that lasts the longest and so calls up the most memories. Ivory soap takes me to my great grandmother. Good old cow manure back home because I grew up with a dairy over the back fence. Ozone and wet desert is family vacation, it always seemed to rain on the road to Kansas.
      This holiday question? The answer has to be a combination. Smoke from the fireplace, the smell of the tree, pies coming out of the oven and all the people smells that mingle together to let you know you are surrounded by family.

    7. Mike Sparks

      Best holiday smell

      I would have to say that the smell of a Christmas tree or turkey in the oven can take me back to Christmases long, long ago. I would like a candle that smelled like burning wood, as well as one that smelled like burning leaves in the fall. Very distinct. Merry CHRISTmas to all of you. Praise to our Lord and Savior!

    8. Christine T

      I love the smell of fresh pine and cloves. Especially the cloves. Its very relaxing to me.

    9. Linda

      There's no place like...

      What a lovely post! I’m going to say the scent of our home when I walk in after being away for an hour or a day–especially when the weather is crisp. Right now it’s the smell of Christmas tree and apples and books (always books) and beeswax and baking–and lots of laughter, light, and love.

      Christmas blessings upon you all!

    10. Kathy Rowe

      So many good smells connected to Christmas…..baking bread, cookie baking, the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, the smell of cinnamon sticks.
      I will all the Amish America bloggers a very Merry and Blessed Christmas season. I so enjoy this blog and thank you, Erik, for taking the time to make it possible for us to have some good reading!
      A Happy and Healthy New Year to all also!

    11. Kathy Rowe

      Meant to say I wish all the bloggers a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

    12. Denise

      The smell of the Christmas tree…takes me back to my childhood.

    13. VT anabaptist

      The barn smells of manure, silage, fresh sawdust bedding, 2nd cut hay, teat dip, LITERALLY become part of a farmer. I go away a few times a year and when this smell washes off after a few days i become lost and home sick. The sent is far more then just a barn smell, its those long days in the hay and corn fields, the cold winter nights putting down extra bedding, spreading all that honey(fertility) back on my fields completing the cycle. Since we heat only with wood and have all my life, the smell of wood smoke brings a feeling a warmth, family and home. I always tell my boys the only thing second to a barn full of hay is a shed full of wood.
      “Tis not the manger but the cross that sets our spirt free” Merry Christmas to all!

      1. Superb description VT, captured well for this non-farmer.

    14. Sara Mandal-Joy

      I can’t tolerate most scented candles, and my lungs get reactive when I’m around burning wood for too long. BUT I love the smell of a wood fire. We don’t buy cut trees, but I bring in branches for the scent. The natural living scents don’t get me wheezing. Its the chemical ones that I get reactive to. I can’t tolerate being in a room with someone with perfume, of any kind. But a naturally oil with its own scent I can love. And some (expensive, with natural scents) incense I can enjoy. Pine or cedar branches, cinnamon, cloves – I think these would be my favorites.

    15. Patti


      I love the smell of fireplaces, pipe tobacco, certain candles burning.
      Bread baking to name a few

      1. I don’t know why I also enjoy the smell of pipe tobacco, and even don’t mind cigar smoke as much, even though it’s more pungent than cigarette smoke.

        1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

          To me the smell of a pipe reminds me of my Uncle Peter, the man smoked a pipe, and he also had a fondness for Scotch, two things I don’t indulge in as an adult, though I would like drink scotch on occasion; just like any alcohol – moderation

          Did you have a relative who puffed on a pipe, Erik?

          1. I did not shom, had very few relatives smoked anything. Pipe smoke may be more appealing for it’s relative rarity, but it is a sweeter more aromatic smoke.

    16. Christmas Smells

      Here in Australia we celebrate Christmas in summer so it is a time of BBQs and going to the beach. My favourite smells would have to be the aroma of goodies baking in the oven and our traditional fruitcake! My favourite smells would have to be that of a newborn baby, the smell of hay freshly cut ( although we hay on our farm inOctober) and the smells while I’m milking my cows!
      Happy Christmas!

      1. BBQ and beach at Christmas time, I could go for that 🙂

    17. I fix a large breakfast with champagne for my family. The best smell is bacon cooking on Christmas morning. Everyone gets a glass of champagne and we open gifts after breakfast Needless to say they are in a good mood and no one complains about their gifts. My family says the breakfast is the best part of the day. I too was raised on a farm, and do not mind the farm odors. We had a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin.

    18. Debbie H

      Has to be the Christmas tree. I love wood smoke but never having a fireplace it is not a Christmas smell. Instead the smoke reminds me of CAMPING.

      merry christmas

    19. MaryAnn Pepe

      Christmas smells

      Love cinnamon,Pine trees and the shrimp scampi that I make!

    20. Linda

      “Yeah, I was already in the presence of someone that smelled like they took a swim in their cologne or perfume” :-).

      Posted in behalf of http://www.facebook.com/midwest.conference.line

    21. Alice Mary

      A freshly cut evergreen tree SHOUTS Christmas to me.

      I also LOVE the (now forbidden) smell of leaves burning in the Fall.

      Yes, cigar smoke is reassuring to me, as my “Grandpa Louie” (not related to me, because both of my grandmothers were widowed multiple times) used to smoke cigars, and he was the only grandpa (albeit step-grandpa) I ever knew. Lived to 97, smoking cigars & eating pigs feet & all kinds of fatty Polish sausages & other foods. I should be so lucky!

      Merry Christmas to all who follow/read/contribute to Amish America. May the New Year bring unexpected blessings to you all!

      Alice Mary

    22. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      Food smells and I'm steaming something for X-Mas

      The smell of birds roasting in the oven makes me happy and seasonably festive at this time of year. Most of the time we ate Turkey, but we also ate Goose and Game Hens on occasion, all smell very good.

      I generally consider the smell of Christmas season food to be the best smell ever, and I love how it can linger for a number of days, leading until the next big meal planned, which often was a batch of potato pancakes and a plate of kielbasa, then around New Years time, on different days, Lobster and Mussels.

      Question; I bought a pair of lobster tails for a part of a Christmas lunch I am planning, the problem is, they are raw, and I’m not sure how long to cook them in boiling water. I’ve seen my father do full lobsters countless times, but I’ve never done it myself. I know the shells have to go red and they are done, but what is a good time range to cook them?

      Merry Christmas everyone on Amish America

    23. Tom Geist

      Smells, these are a few of my favorite things….

      Grandmas house at a holiday meal
      The smell of a fresh Christmas tree
      Riding/walking past the exhaust fan of a restaurant (even when not hungry)

      Some cigars and cherry pipe tobacco (when someone else is smoking them, not me)
      “The smell of napalm in the morning”…oh no, wait, that was just a quote from a movie I once saw.

      Fresh cut grass
      Someone barbecuing
      The smell of coffee in the morning, even though I can’t stand the taste of it.

      Popcorn at a movie theater
      Carnival smells
      Fresh air after a rain
      Clean sheets and towels

      Tom in Lincoln LincNdbr@hotmail.com

    24. Terry Berger

      Best smell of the season

      For me it has to be the hint of woodsmoke from the wood cookstove, perking coffee, and baking sticky buns on Christmas morning.


    25. Al in Ky

      I was raised on a hog farm and sometimes during the summer my mother would complain to my dad, “That awful manure smell is reaching clear up to the house.” And my dad would simply reply, “Smells like money to me.” My dad was not Amish but sort of sounds like a phrase an Amish farmer would say!

      My favorite farm smell is newly-mown alfalfa hay.

    26. Katrina

      Holiday would be cinnamon, bacon, and

      triple chocolate brownies baking in the oven.
      Non-holiday would be lemon/citrus scents and the smell of sorghum being processed. I grew up in Northern Indiana -there was a sorghum mill a few miles away. On those days when the wind was blowing in the right direction, we would catch wave after wave of the sorghum scent. It’s one of those scents that people seem to either love or hate- I was in the “love” camp. I read somewhere that the scents of childhood evoke the strongest memories in people.

      1. OldKat

        Not exactly Christmas smells

        Just now getting a chance to read and respond to the good threads on AA.

        Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and are all now getting ready to celebrate the start of a Happy & Prosperous New Year.

        Katrina’s comment about sorghum reminded me of a not so Christmas smell that I have come to enjoy over the years and got a good dose of the day before Christmas. In the town south of ours is a company that makes a cattle feed/protein-mineral supplement that is made of molasses that has been augmented with minerals and cooked down to a near solid and poured into large plastic tubs. When the stuff cools it becomes very solid.

        The farmers and ranchers put these tubs out & the cattle lick on the stuff, giving them energy and additional protein. The use of it allows the farmers to feed a little lower quality hay, which is important in a year like this that was so dry during the growing season.

        Anyway, when they are cooking the stuff down the smell is amazing. You can smell it miles away from their plant, depending on the wind direction. I am sure there are people that don’t care for the smell … but I’m not one of them. I love it.

        The same afternoon that I got a good whiff of this aromatic wonder, the coffee roaster in our little town was roasting a batch of coffee. Combined with the nice, crisp weather courtesy of a brisk northerly wind and a high temperature in the low forties it made for a memorable afternoon on Christmas Eve. Maybe from now on I’ll associate molasses being cooked down & the smell of coffee roasting with Christmas Eve!

    27. Char

      The smell of turkey roasting in the oven is my favorite!
      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

    28. I love the smell of pine, but we no longer have a live tree. This year the garlands hung at our church had more laurel than pine, so so piney aroma. 🙁

      1. Tom Geist

        A number of places sell products by “Scentcicles” that I think smell like a Christmas tree. Last year I bought some ‘fresh cut spruce’ from them but this year could only seem to find the ‘white winter fir,’ which is still good.
        Here is a list of places that sell it:


        They also have item they call the ‘snow berry wreath’ which is nice. These are great for putting up around fake trees or inside a car or anywhere where you want to have a touch of Christmas smells with you.
        I don’t sell for this company and would be happy if anyone know so other products that smell as good.

        Tom in Lincoln… LincNebr@hotmail.com

    29. I see some great additions to the list here. I’ll be back with a little post tomorrow including some Christmas themed photos. A blessed merry Christmas to all and hope your Christmas dinner was as good as mine 🙂

      1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

        Happy Ho Ho

        On behalf of all of us who read Amish America, I’d like to say thank you, Erik, and wish you and yours a great and Merry Christmas, although I thought I read you where in Europe for Christmas, which ain’t bad, its not Australia at this time of year, but if I read right and you are there it’s none too shabby.

        I ate Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners with different members of my family on either day, both was lovely, and I was stuffed at the end of it, which is always a good sign. Those who read my earlier post, my cooking lobster adventure turned out well, not chewy at all like some people told me if I cooked it too long. My father always told me to trust myself when it came to cooking, but even when his health was declining cooking was something he strived to do himself with help from me.

        It snowed a little here, which made things a little more festive looking, although many didn’t need it after the ice storm that froze up southern Ontario from like the Michigan boarder to Quebec over the weekend, although it was weird to hear Buffalo, NY, TV Weather-folk talking about those poor folks in Ontario without power, when I tuned in by coincidence on Christmas morning looking for a Yule Log on TV. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people were and are without power here, I was just surprised to hear that comment from WNY.

        I had power the entire time although I know people who did not.

        Now, I am just relaxing before I finally go to bed for the night, in Canada we observe an unofficial holiday called Boxing Day, I think it was British in Origin, and some people buy more stuff for themselves the day after Christmas, say with the money or gift cards they might have received on the 25th, I recall that in certain stores when I once went shopping on Boxing Day it was as busy and as stressful as anything on a shopping day like Black Friday. I remember my parents took my brother and I out shopping on Boxing Day and it was dreadful.

        Merry Christmas to everyone

    30. Erin

      I am amazed at the power of smell! I love Russian Tea at Christmas time. Brings me right back to Christmas at my Grandma and Grandpa’s Farmhouse Kitchen!

    31. tammy

      I love the smell of wood smoke – it is by far my favorite scent. Second would be fresh cut grass. My husband lost his sense of smell and it has advantages but also disadvantages (can’t tell when food is burning).

    32. Patty Tolliver

      What's the best holiday smell?

      My favorite smells are burning wood, Christmas Trees (Noble Firs), ginger bread and wassail simmering on the stove. It reminds me of our family decorating the Christmas Tree, singing carols while we decorated and then standing back with all the lights off save the lights on the tree and just admiring the beauty of it all.

    33. Linda

      Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

    34. I love the smell of manure. It brings back great memories.