I am sitting here at the end of this busy day, eating a cookie and enjoying the tree and the quiet.
Today I was peeling oranges for the cranberry salad I make every year (my mother's recipe) and it occurred to me that even more than the smell of the Christmas tree, the sharp, spicy smell of oranges is the smell of Christmas to me. For most of the year I mostly ignore them, but at Christmas I like to have a bowl of them in the house, especially the little mandarinas. Did you always find a little orange in the toe of your sock on Christmas morning? I did. Nuts, too. In the shell–walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds and hazelnuts. I looked for unshelled nuts today. They were always in a big bin in the produce department in the grocery store. You shoveled all you needed into a paper bag with a big metal scoop. No more. There are no bins of nuts in Portland grocery stores. Only small, sealed cellophane bags containing pecans or almonds or hazelnuts. When did that happen?
When I was a child we went to church on Christmas Eve. When we were really small we went, bundled in warm coats and mittens over our pajamas, and fell asleep in the car on the way home. The warmth of the old Methodist church, the smell of the candles, the glorious music ("for unto us a child is bo-orn...") put me into a kind of sleepy trance. And then the smell of oranges. As we left the church, headed out into an often cold, snowy night, each little Methodist child was given an orange.
When my children were small we had chili on Christmas Eve and went for a ride in the car to view the Christmas lights, then read The Night Before Christmas from my childhood copy. I wonder if there is a particular thing or smell that they most remember. Maybe the orange and the nuts in their socks. Maybe that Santa always left a new toothbrush in their sock.
Tonight I watched my granddaughter prepare tea and cookies to leave for Santa, along with a beautifully illustrated thank you note to Santa. She is hoping he will leave her a special doll, which was always my favorite gift from Santa. I can't wait to see her happiness when she opens that gift.
And so, Merry Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah—whatever you celebrate. I wish you the gifts of lovely memories from the past and joy in the current moment, and a delicious cookie and music and peace and—if you want—the sharp, spicy smell of oranges. It's the smell of Christmas, you know.