As I was sipping a cup of Silk Road’s “Spicy Mandarin” tea, I realized that my memories of Christmas past and dreams of Christmases present and future are inextricably linked to the scents and flavours of the holiday season.
I remember my fascination, as a small child, with the decorated Christmas tree. Sometimes I would lie down on my back under the tree and look up through its branches wrapped with coloured lights, daydreaming. Other times I would examine my reflection in the shiny Christmas balls, making silly faces and giggling at the distortion. I would even bring my Barbies out to play and make up endless elaborate stories about them living in the branches of the tree. One whiff of a cut Christmas tree and all of these sweet, innocent childhood memories return in a rush of nostalgia.
I remember making a game of sucking candy canes to a sharp point. To this day the taste of hard peppermint candies reminds me of those sticky sweet Christmas canes.
I remember the excitement when the first boxes of Christmas oranges would show up in the grocery stores, each piece of fruit wrapped in its own square of thin, light green paper and stacked in tantalizing layers. My family would polish off hundreds of those little citrus gems! I always ate mine more slowly than the others, though, as I hated the taste of the “white bits” on the outside of the oranges and took the time to remove every tiny piece of it. (I still do this, though perhaps not quite so obsessively.)
I remember that there was always a big wooden bowl of mixed nuts in their shells sitting on the table, along with the requisite silver nutcrackers and picks. My favourites were always the Brazil nuts (and those are still the ones I choose first out of nut mixes!), but all were fair game and brought us together as we’d chat and laugh while cracking the shells to get to the deliciousness inside.
I remember Dad brewing a fragrant Christmas punch of juice (mostly apple, but sometimes a touch of orange or cranberry) heated on the stove with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, orange or lemon slices, sometimes raisins. He didn’t follow a recipe, so it was a little bit different every year… but it was always delicious, and we revelled in the novelty of seeing Dad in Mom’s kitchen!
I remember Mom making fudge and dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies of all varieties. Coming home cold and wet from playing in the snow and being enveloped in the warmth and sweetness of baking goodies was like grasping a little piece of heaven.
In reality, I know that every moment of Christmas wasn’t perfect. I know that there were spilled drinks, squabbles over gifts, tiredness and tears. I know that there may have been years when the budget was tight and my parents struggled to make Christmas special. I know that there was disappointment.
But when I smell a cut Christmas tree or cookies baking or a freshly-peeled Mandarin orange, the imperfections are not what I remember.