Thanks to our limbic system in the brain, we can spontaneously associate various events or emotions with different scents. Inevitably, during the holiday season, the limbic system is stimulated by aromatic delights and all those wonderful childhood memories are stirred up within us. One of my favorite limbic memories at Christmas is associated with fresh cut pine. That deep, woody smell transports me back to childhood and the knowing that Christmas has finally arrived with the arrival of the Christmas tree. Oh, how that tree would fill the entire house with its rich aroma!
Almost every religion has a food tradition associated with a particular holiday and it usually is a specific spice or flavoring that stimulates the limbic brain into memory. Baking smells, like gingerbread or the spices in pumpkin pie; mulled wine; even the sage in the turkey stuffing are all common memory associations with the holidays.
But how do some of these scents affect our moods and perceptions of life? We know different aromas can be uplifting or calming or balancing, so let’s explore some of the December scents, starting with the spices, and see how we are being effected on subtle levels.
Cinnamon is present in many baked goods and is a warming aroma at holiday time. The odor invigorates, strengthens, energizes and focuses the mind. Burned in an aroma lamp or used as a spice in cooking, cinnamon can alleviate inner chill, that cold feeling of inward introspection, and of nervous exhaustion. Sexually stimulating, this oil is uplifting and great to include in any party’s potpourri.
Ginger is another warming, strengthening and balancing oil. It encourages confidence, empathy and courage while combating confusion, apathy, burnout, sadness and sexual anxieties. It is an excellent tonic for both the physical and emotional bodies.
Peppermint, either in the form of candy canes, or as an essential oil, can be a stimulating experience. This scent excites, awakens, and refreshes the senses. It can inspire the child within; clear negative energy; dispel mental fatigue, lethargy, sluggishness and disorientation. Peppermint is a wonderful aid to calm nerves, alleviate headaches (especially digestive headaches), and cleanse the atmosphere of bugs (both viral/bacterial and psychic).
Nutmeg, another spice used in cooking around the holidays, is a carminative, relaxing and reducing stress and nervousness. It stimulates mental fatigue and invigorates memory. Also a wonderful digestive and assimilation aid, this oil supports the body through holiday excesses, both emotionally and physically.
Sage is a stimulant, which seems to restore energy to the entire being. It is uplifting, activating the nervous system to reduce mental fatigue, stress and exhaustion. It also is a wonderful diuretic and can reduce fluid accumulation in the body from seasonal excessing. In Native American tradition, sage is used for purification and cleansing both energetically and environmentally. Smudging to clear the atmosphere, especially before and after family gatherings, helps to maintain a sense of equilibrium and clarity emotionally and physically.
Frankincense is a very religious scent, used in church rituals on high mass days and in Temple dedications. Associated with one of the gifts given to the Christ child, frankincense brings us into a space of inspiration, inner strength and meditation. It is a very comforting oil, evoking emotional stability, fortitude and enlightenment. This is a wonderful oil to burn in an aroma lamp if nerves are getting frazzled or emotions frayed, if there is anxiety, exhaustion or depression.
Galbanum, an earthy smelling oil, was used in Temple rededication rituals in ancient Hebrew tradition, along with onycha and stacte. Still associated with Chanukah, this oil brings illumination, light and serenity to the spirit. It helps reduce nervous anxiety, tension and emotional upset, while calming and balancing the psyche. It harmonizes, centers and brings one into their inner focus.
Pine is an oil for patience, understanding, peace and friendship. It is comforting yet invigorating and encourages forgiveness, sharing, trust, acceptance and humility. Having a Christmas tree in the house can dispel feelings of regret, guilt, self-blame, exhaustion, rejection and other negative emotions of self-worthlessness. Burning pine oil can uplift a household and bring out the best in people.
So whether you are lighting a scented candle, sitting by an open aromatic fire, brewing up some mulled wine or baking a holiday favorite, consider the influence these traditional essential oil scents have on our lives and enjoy them this December!
Have a Happy Holiday!