Saturday, 27 December 2008

We wish you a smelly Christmas!

No, I am not complaining about the aftershave Ma bought me (Issy Myake, BTW!), nor remembering the alternative version of Jingle Bells we sang in the school playground ("Jingle Bells, Santa smells, Rudolph thinks he's gay!"), but reflecting on the odd way in which smells evoke memories of Childhood. For me it wasn't the turkey or incense at Midnight Mass (I only discovered Anglo-Catholic worship at University) - it was the smell that hit my nose on Christmas Night when I was walking the dog in Cowdenbeath. The smell of a coal fire burning on the crisp night air.

Growing up in the 70's and early 80's in the heart of the West Fife mining district, coal was often used for heating. Not in our house (we had gas fired central heating) but it is a smell I associate with my grandparents house and Christmas morning there. Up the hill to Kirkford with the pressies to show them, the smell of the coal fire and breakfast was an integral part of my childhood. I really hadn't thought of it for years until I smelled the coal in the air the other night and it transported me right back. Learning how to light one properly was a skill I haven't practised in 20-30 years. Paper 1st (Daily Record, tightly wrapped into 'sticks'), then kindling. Zipp firelighters if the wood was wet then the ashes from the day before (recycling?) and finally 'sma' coal to ignite it. Big stuff only after it had caught.

What smells take you back to childhood? it would be interesting to know.


  1. Warm glitter-wax. Nobody under 60 will have heard of this. It was what we made Christmas-tree decorations with, during and immediately after the war, when there was nothing else to be had. As the room warmed up during Christmas morning, they softened and eventually went Plop! onto whatever surface was below the tree.

    Also, a similar but subtly different smell, which greeted us kids when we came down on Christmas morning - the Christmas candle. I don't know if they had this pious custom in Scotland, but many households in Ireland placed a candle in the window on Christmas Eve, to light Joseph and Mary on their way.

  2. Those are both new to me, but i imagine the Christmas carol might have been a feature of Catholic homes. Mine was non-practicing Presbyterian.

  3. The smell of plasticine. You don't really get it any more, but if I ever catch a smell like it I'm 5 years old. And at Christmas, the smell of giblets simmering on Christmas Eve used to keep me awake, even more than the thought of presents on the morrow!

  4. Ah, plasticine! But the texture matters too - mixed with pencil shavings from the bottom of the pen, pencil and crayon box!