“All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.” Psalm 45:8 (NIV)
There is nothing that puts me more in the mood for Christmas than the smells of Christmas. There is the aroma of pine in the air from the fresh-cut tree, the scent of butter and sugar emanating from the oven where cookies are baking and the fragrances of candles burning brightly on the mantle. I love hearing Christmas music and love seeing Christmas lights, but I know Christmas is near when the house is filled with the unique combination of cinnamon, peppermint and baked ham.
A majority of the first ‘Christmas gifts’ ever given were fragrant. Frankincense is aromatic tree resin which was burned as incense during worship in the temples of Jesus’ day. Myrrh is a tree sap made into a common perfume which was so strong that was used to mask the odor of death. Some of the smells of Christmas elicit his divinity and his doom. One can only imagine the sweet and pungent scents that wafted throughout the home of Mary and Joseph as the Magi presented their treasures to the new-born king. The aromas of Christmas can prepare us for His birth.
As I think about the first Christmas a whole different set of smells bombard my thinking. I cannot imagine the scents surrounding the angels as they heralded the savior’s birth. The air would be filled with the aroma of sheep, dogs and dirty shepherds. The only recollection of the fragrance of livestock that I can muster comes from the zoo and those smells were unpleasant, at best. The greatest manifestation of God’s invisible army recorded in Scripture was brilliant to behold but, likely, awful to breathe. Christmas also includes the smell of earth and animals.
Now, add to those aromas another set of smells. They come from the very place where the Christ was born – in a carved-out cave used for keeping animals out of the weather. The stench of camels, cows, goats, chickens and/or sheep (plus their waste as, with the influx of people from this on-going census, who had time to clean up after the animals) would have been all but overpowering. It is hard to imagine the son of God entering into the world amid such conditions. We picture the serenity of the holy family as we gaze up the crèche and rarely think about the smells of that first Christmas. Christmas includes the smell of humility and poverty.
Aromas have an almost magical ability to trigger memories (every time I smell caramel I remember losing a tooth while eating a Sugar Daddy as a kid). The smell of the fireplace may bring you back to a Christmas Day with your grandfather. The fragrance of cinnamon may cause you to think about the apartment you had decorated with scented pinecones. The scent of ‘Jean Naté After Bath Splash’ might bring you back to a moment in your boyhood when you were wrapping your mom’s Christmas present.
I hope the scents of Christmas this year will give you a better sense of Christmas this year!