The Muse in Wooden Shoes

Exploring a Scented Life: a blog about perfume, cooking, literature, family

The Muse in Wooden Shoes - Exploring a Scented Life: a blog about perfume, cooking, literature, family

Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, Interpreted in Fragrance: a Joint Blogging Project

a christmas carolIt’s not for nothing that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, is a perennial favorite. Its tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, miserly in finances and in emotional ties, rejoining the human race after his encounters with the ghost of his former partner and with three Spirits of Christmas – Past, Present, and Yet To Come – is heartwarming in the best sense. It restores one’s faith in the power of redemption and the ability of humankind to improve the lot of the poor. Every few years or so, I get out our copy of A Christmas Carol and read it out loud to the family, and despite its old-fashioned language, everyone enjoys the story.

This year I’d like to contemplate the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come in terms of fragrance, along with my fellow sister bloggers (I just noticed, we’re all female). I’m choosing to interpret Dickens’ Spirits in perfume, but the assignment was loosely structured and I’m sure we’ve all taken slightly different directions in addressing the theme, defined as “Ghosts of Perfume Past, Present and Future.”

ghost of christmas pastThe Spirit of Christmas Past, in Dickens’ words, is small as a child, or rather an old person who has shrunk. It has long white hair but is unwrinkled, with a complexion of “tenderest bloom.” (Anybody who’s ever kissed the rosy cheek of a toddler knows how absolutely delicious the experience is.) It wears a white tunic embroidered with summer flowers, while its feet and legs are bare. It holds a sprig of holly in its hand, and out of its head shoots a jet of light.

This spirit leads Scrooge past many scenes of past Christmases, touching his heartstrings with long-buried memories of joyous celebrations and of the loving, warm-hearted boy he once was, before he closed himself off due to loss and disappointment and pain.

It’s pretty difficult to think of a fragrance that combines the effects of wise age and tender youth, of strong bare limbs and diminutive size, of summer and light and prickly leaves. So I focused on a fragrance that seems to embody nostalgia for me: Tableau de Parfums Miriam.

Miriam opens with aldehydes – a nostalgic touch these days, when aldehydes practically scream, “Old Lady Perfume!” – and continues with a soft and tender rose-violet accent, undergirded with a soft ambery sandalwood. It is above all a tender fragrance, one that recalls for me the soft smell of my own mother when I was a child, and one that never fails to remind me of children who have missed out on the miracle of motherly love. It’s something we’re born to need, I think, and if we don’t get it we wonder if it’s our fault. Knowing that your mother loves you is one of the most basic human emotional needs, and when this need goes unfulfilled, it’s one of the saddest things in the world. Ah, but the love of a mother is an invisible cashmere blanket. Wear Miriam and feel it wrapped around you like a blessing.

A few other nostalgic fragrances to consider:

Parfums de Nicolai Kiss Me Tender is a sweet little smile of a perfume, with rose, violet, anise and heliotrope, a happy-memory smell.

Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie, true to its name, is another tender nod to times of the past. Similar to Miriam, but with perhaps more aldehydes and less sweetness in the base.

ghost of christmas presentThe Spirit of Christmas Present is a generous, joyful one. Many of the trappings of what we now consider to distinguish “an English Christmas” are mentioned in A Christmas Carol: the holly, the evergreen garlands, the singing of carols, the Christmas punch, the family gathering, the roast goose or turkey or suckling pig on the table, surrounded by all kinds of feast foods. Christmas in England, before the publication of A Christmas Carol, had had more of a religious focus than a family one, quietly celebrated (if celebrated at all) by attending a church service and lighting candles in honor of the Light of the World, the other trappings being seen as pagan and sinful. But people responded so positively to the idea of joyous celebration in Christ’s honor (or was it, perhaps, simply the idea of a good party in a good cause?) that the old once-pagan ways resurged.

Well, I like a good party myself. As far as that goes, Jesus probably did too, given that we know he attended a wedding and often used feasts and weddings in his parables of the Heavenly Kingdom. Haul out the holly! Bring on the clove-orange pomanders! Light the candles, our Savior is born!

Dickens describes his Spirit of Christmas Present as being tall, genial, cheery, with a holly wreath accented with icicles in its long brown curls, wearing a simple green robe trimmed with white fur, and barefoot, holding a glowing torch shaped like a cornucopia. This Spirit leads Scrooge to witness several Christmas celebrations, from lonely sailors at sea singing carols to poor people huddled over outdoor bonfires to keep warm, from the glow of family togetherness at the Cratchits’ meal to the elegant, jovial feast at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s house (Scrooge having refused the invitation). The Spirit also shows Scrooge less delightful Christmases in the lives of poor people beset by the terrible twins “Want” and “Ignorance,” which makes him ashamed of his earlier suggestion that the proper place for poor people is in the workhouse or in prison.

The central quality of the Spirit of Christmas Present is joy, I think, and one of my favorite joyful perfumes is Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka. I experience Vanille Tonka as being a giddy romp through an oversized forest of carnations and cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans and incense sticks, with a lime canopy overhead. Silly, I know, but it’s like Candyland to me, so much fun! Such a glowy, happy scent.

Here are a couple more joyful Christmassy perfumes to consider:

Teo Cabanel Alahine, my default Christmas fragrance, always reminds me of the Christmassy Madrigal Dinners my college choir used to put on. It’s essentially a floral amber with some aromatic and spicy notes, and it recalls every aspect of those delightful days.

DSH Perfumes Festive, a wonderful fragrance encompassing evergreen notes, spice, orange, sandalwood and incense. It’s a happy sort of smell.

Christmas Carol - Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come

The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is an enigma. Dickens describes it as being solemn, tall, stately, mysterious. It is draped and hooded in black which shrouds any glimpse of head, face,or body, except that lone outstretched hand. Certainly Scrooge seems terrified of this Spirit, and with good reason: the Spirit shows him first the effects of the death of the much-beloved son of Scrooge’s underpaid clerk, and then the contrasted effects of Scrooge’s own death. I can only imagine that this Spirit might appear differently to each of us, depending on how we make our way in the world, and I’d guess that it would not necessarily show us each our future deaths.

The characteristic of the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come that I’d like to highlight is its silent mystery. What might the coming year hold for us? God knows.

 

One of the most mysterious perfumes I’ve ever smelled is Stephen Jones for Comme des Garcons, which is a tiny whiff of violet wafting over a blackened lava field, borne on the feathery wings of aldehydes. Originally I had been very disappointed in it, as it had been recommended to me as “a violet perfume.” It’s not a violet perfume. It is a strange, blasted moonscape seen through violet-tinted Victorian spectacles. It’s weird, and eerie, and mysterious, and fascinating.

A few other mysterious and wintery fragrances to consider:

Lancome Magie Noire, which is such an eerie thing (particularly in the vintage) that I shiver a little every time I smell it. One has the sense of a storm gathering just over the horizon when wearing it. Herbs and rose, moss, vetiver and oriental notes add up to an otherworldly character.

angel highgate cemeterySerge Lutens La Myrrhe, the incomparable. I find it absolutely beautiful, but I recently ran across a blog comment at Perfume Posse, I think it was, that called it mysterious. The commenter said it reminded her of “those mossy angel carvings in Highgate Cemetery: exquisite, grieving, eternally silent.” Although I don’t experience it in the same way, that is a perfect and beautiful description. La Myrrhe’s aldehydes, soft floral notes, and woods create a beautiful glow around its myrrh heart.

Please visit the other blogs participating in this joint exercise:

All I Am – A Redhead

ChickenFreak’s Obsessions

EauMG

Olfactoria’s Travels

Suzanne’s Perfume Journal

Undina’s Looking Glass

Another Perfume Blog (Big thanks to Natalie for organizing the joint blogging project!)

A very merry Christmas and holiday season to you all!

 

 

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  • Suzanne says:

    Mals, you are such a perfectionist … and I do very much mean that as a compliment. I think you interpreted Dickens’ A Christmas Carol so beautifully in your perfume choices. Even though I haven’t smelled a good number of these perfumes, your descriptions are so full (and I know you to be so accurate in describing perfumes in general) I feel like I can smell each one of them. (And now I will be very determined to try Stephen Jones for Comme des Garcons, with your “strange, blasted moonscape” statement about it).

    Here’s wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    December 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm
    • mals86 says:

      What a kind thing to say, Suzanne – I do love describing how fragrances feel as well as smell. Your blog always does a wonderful job of painting word pictures.

      A wonderful holiday season to you!

      December 22, 2012 at 10:14 am
  • Undina says:

    Mals, I like your perfume choices (and I’ll wait for the weekly report to see which one you chose to wear). And I chuckled at your “Jesus probably did too” :)

    I also noticed that we had only women participants but I checked – at least several men were invited. So no discrimination.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    December 21, 2012 at 5:00 pm
    • mals86 says:

      I’m sure Jesus enjoyed a good party. :) And I didn’t mean to imply we were girls-only by design, just that I noticed that everyone participating this year was female…

      Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

      December 22, 2012 at 10:13 am
  • scentandshinythings says:

    Christmas past, present and future beautifully evoked in prose. As your Evil Scent Twin I was pleasantly surprised to see Kiss Me Tender in the selection, I do love it. My mini spray of Nostalgie is still in its sealed package awaiting Christmas Day.

    Vanille Tonka I will never ever be able to wear though! Or Alahine. I just don’t get them.

    I have very fond memories of Magie Noire, the present version bears no relation.

    I have very much enjoyed reading each blogger’s interpretation.

    December 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm
    • mals86 says:

      Well, hi there EST!! Kiss Me Tender is just so pretty, it’s hard to imagine anybody disliking it. And vintage Magie Noire is a force of nature, I think – every time I pop open my mini bottle it blows my hair back.

      It’s been fun to see the different interpretations of the theme!

      December 22, 2012 at 10:11 am
  • Natalie says:

    I liked your interpretation of this, Mals, and especially the description of La Myhrre you quoted. Eerie indeed. Happy Christmas to you and the family!

    December 21, 2012 at 11:18 pm
    • mals86 says:

      Thank you! La Myrrhe is gorgeous but otherworldly, isn’t it?

      I’m so behind on commenting and replying… busy pre-Christmas around here… a lovely Christmas to you and yours as well.

      December 22, 2012 at 10:08 am
  • ChickenFreak says:

    Wow, I haven’t smelled even one of these fragrances–and your descriptions make me want to smell them all. :) Thank you for drawing my attention to them–and, Merry Christmas!

    December 23, 2012 at 3:53 am
    • mals86 says:

      Oh, it’s a cornucopia of Good Stuff!! Hope you can manage to smell some of them soon. Merry Christmas to you!

      December 23, 2012 at 10:37 am
  • JoanElaine says:

    I love your take on the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come!

    Thanks to your enchanting description, I now must give La Myrrhe another chance. It was a scrubber for me two years ago, but there are many fragrances I didn’t like then that I love now.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    December 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm
    • mals86 says:

      Oh, I do love La Myrrhe… not everyone does, but who knows what changes your tastes have undergone? Merry Christmas to you and yours too!

      December 24, 2012 at 10:10 am
  • Aparatchick says:

    Just stopping by to wish you and your family a Merry (and fragrant) Christmas!

    December 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm
    • mals86 says:

      And to you!!

      December 25, 2012 at 10:41 am

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