It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas
Every December, some expectant mothers hope the delivery of their baby occurs on Christmas, while others prefer to avoid the occasion so their child’s special day isn’t overshadowed by it. Regardless, people who share the same birthday as Jesus are born under a lucky star—except when such folks receive gifts throughout their lives that count for both Christmas and birthday.
My mother—born on December 25—was often deprived of separate gifts for the two distinct occasions. However, I doubt that she minded when it came to the gifts I gave her as a child. I recall pedaling my bike to the dime store on the main street in town to buy her a little cobalt-blue bottle of fragrance, alluringly known as Evening in Paris. With a drop or two of this eau de parfum behind the ears, she could close her eyes and imagine an enchanted evening in Paris—Paris, Texas! Similarly, for my dad’s Christmas gift, I created a laboratory in the bathroom closet to combine parts of his Aqua Velva and English Leather into the half-empty bottle of Brut cologne. This intoxicating formula gave new meaning to old spice.
Certain scents immediately transport us to a specific time and place. Where does the smell of a fresh-mowed lawn, sizzling bacon, theater popcorn, bubble gum, a freshly sharpened wood pencil or crayons, Play-Doh, Silly Putty, and Lincoln Logs take you?
The holiday season is a stocking full of olfactory gifts, and it’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas! Inhale the crisp, cold air through your nostrils or sniff the unique scent of fresh snow. Enjoy the familiar aroma of peppermint, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and citrus that’s prevalent at Christmastime.
Breathe in the recognizable redolence of balsam fir, spruce, cedar, juniper, or pine when you enter a room with a permeating presence of evergreens. Delight in the distinct lingering fragrance of blooming Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs. Savor the pleasurable sensation of smelling hot cocoa, apple cider, warm gingerbread cookies, maple syrup, mulled wine, or roasted chestnuts while near a blazing wood-burning fireplace.
Over the years, however, we can become so familiar with the narratives of Jesus’ birth at Christmas that “the greatest story ever told” fails to stimulate our senses. What, then, did that first Christmas smell like? It’s likely an array of acute and aggressive aromas filled the confined stable! Breathe in the pungent smell of fresh hay. Mix in the foul stench of animal smells. Throw in a few human odors, too, since poor shepherds who tended flocks for months weren’t known for their personal hygiene. Anticipate the forthcoming piney, spicy scents of frankincense and myrrh to perfume the air.
Allow your senses to transport you to the manger two millennia ago. Did Jesus have a “new-baby smell” that elusively approximates the scent of vanilla, orange blossoms, and powder? While much research has focused on how newborns bond to their mother’s scent, another study suggests that baby smell is not only real but acts as a primordial stimulus for mothers to bond to their infants (Frontiers in Psychology, 2013).
What did Baby Jesus smell like? Our God took on an earthy smell. That’s precisely the miracle of Christmas: God became fully human and fully divine—an exhilarating formula crafted to eliminate our odor of sin!