It’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.”
The 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.
The 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.
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.
Serge 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:
A very merry Christmas and holiday season to you all!