Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Five: The Holly and the Ivy

It wasn’t until Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, that the tradition of the Christmas tree began in Britain.  Before then, it was the holly and the ivy that were twined around banisters and railings in English homes. There were even sprigs of holly stuck into the tops of Christmas puddings. The tannenbaum tradition, really was a German import along with the Prince Regent.

Trying to find scents that replicate that gentle slightly leafy smell is hard.  Ivy  turns up as a note in perfume, most successfully I think in Annick Goutal’s Eau de Camille, and as a very smooth component in the soft jade Puredistance Antonia.

The point about both of these fragrances is that they convey ivy’s foliage scent without the fusty earthy element you smell in the garden. Both perfumes feature ivy leaves, and not the earthy, steel woolen roots.  The leaves are definitely the best smelling part of the ivy, and their musty undersides, definitely the worst.

Holly, by contrast, has very little fragrance to my nose, and mistletoe – to drag in another traditional English Christmas green – none at all.  Maybe mistletoe does when it is fresh, but the only mistletoe I’ve ever been down wind of, is dried out and what ever smell it once possessed is long gone.

My fantasy substitution is Celadon a velvet napped green scent of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s.  It is a very textural perfume, and now that I think of it, if you like Puredistance Antonia, you will probably also like Celadon.  They share a sensibility that domesticates green, and makes it elegant and tactile, not at all strident.  These are greens very well suited to a lady’s wrist, there’s nothing aromatic or piercing about them.  Both of the scents are hushed and civilized with self effacing good manners.

Lastly, I am using old Emeraude as a Christmas smell this year.  I’m not clear why Emeraude is called a green oriental, since there is no listed note in it that sounds particularly green to me.  The top of orange, bergamot, and lemon recall its near relation Shalimar, but Emeraude on me, does contain a kind of powdery allusion to malachite in its upper registers.  I smell it particularly in the extract.

Oh well, the tint may be an illusion but Emeraude still manages to have a Christmasy smell to it, that I don’t find in Shalimar, and that I do like a lot. It’s a sort of fantasy holly smell.  Emeraude is a gentle interpretation of the holly, not a prickly one. It’s very easy to wear, a holly with no spines.

These perfumes allow you to wear a lightly seasonal scent, even if you normally don’t wear Orientals or gourmands (which are the usual suspects in the Christmas line-up).  But greens were there long before those central European spices, and it is good to find a place for the holly and the ivy, even if they end up as the ghosts of Christmases long past.

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12 thoughts on “Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Five: The Holly and the Ivy

  1. I did not care much for Eau de Camille (too much citrus). Or Antonia (hideous metallic underbelly). Or Celadon (okay, ya got me, I can’t remember why, and perhaps I should get that sample out and resmell it).

    But I adore me some vintage Emeraude.

    And I like ivy, and I like holly, and I like mistletoe – and you’re right, fresh mistletoe really has no scent at all. My grandfather used to climb the big oak at the bottom of the hill on his farm to get a big clump down right before Christmas. (I miss the mistletoe, I miss the farm and the farmhouse, I miss my grandfather, I miss being a kid at my grandparents’ house, especially at Christmas.)

    Lolita Lempicka supposedly has an ivy note, not that I can pick it out of all that licorice and cotton candy. So do CdG Amazinggreen and Tauer Pentachords Verdant, not that I’ve tried them. Roxana Illuminated Perfumes’ Hedera Helix has gotten good blogpress about its leafy-green delight, and Jo Malone Peony & Moss has a very attractive green cast.

    • Duh, you’d think with all the ivy twined advertising I’d have taken the hint that Lolita Lempicka has ivy in it! You’re right of course. Funny thing though, I went to an open house and the lady of said house was a big LL fan with a couple of bottles out and the bedroom whiffed of LICORICE. Wow, so I tend to class it in with the allsorts perfumes. Mr. Tauer usually does things too strong for me, so I haven’t tried the pentachords, nor the Roxanas. Is she on Etsy? Must check.

      Interesting that even fresh mistletoe has no smell. I’ve only smelled the dry. And yes, I know what you mean about those Christmases on farms long gone. When I was very small we lived in Western Maryland next door to a dairy farm, and I miss that whole place.

      Well, ok, maybe not the cow pies!

  2. Neat that you mentioned Celadon, as it’s right at the top of my perfume sample list. I pretty much consider my exploration of the greens to be “done” (don’t even plan on sampling the Puredistance, as I simply cannot afford it) but Brian’s description of it over at ISTIA triggered a lemming. Right now my leafiest frag is Bel Respiro, but it’s more grass/fresh poplar leaves than moss to my nose.

    • Don’t know if you ever heard of or tried the defunct Gobin Daude line but some folks say that Celadon is like one in that line up, Seve Exquise. I never could find out myself because all the Gobin Daude bottles were long gone before I could get my grimy little hands on them, but Celadon strikes me as one of the most interesting greens in Ms. Hurwitz’ opus. It’s wearable, that’s the bottom line. Bel Respiro, which I have to smell again, seems like a more emerald green and very elegant and more limpid, if you know what I mean, than Celadon which is opaque.

  3. That I’ve read, the origin of the “holly and ivy/mistletoe” tradition is Druidic… and the green foliage is just a smokescreen for the berries. Holly berries, being red, symbolize the power of women; ivy (Hedera helix) and mistletoe berries are waxy white, symbolizing… um, male potency. Intertwined, they please the Gods and Goddesses… but fragrance-wise these berries simply smell like tart acidic wood, so it’s a good thing we’ve shifted our attention to the greens. :)

    • The red berries have nothing to do-one hopes- with the unfortunate fate of red heads under the druid tradition?
      When referencing druids I like to think of Getafix from the Asterix comics! He’s a bit more benign.

      • The red berries… well, it’s a womanly thing, hearkening to that monthly surge which fills us with super-scary magical powers feared by all the peoples. :) Strangely, in Japanese culture, the red=female/white=male dichotomy is also a cultural standard. There is apparently an annual New Year’s Eve televised song “battle” called K?haku, in which women square off against men to warble the most sentimental, overblown songs of our age while the audience chokes on its tears. I imagine the winner is decided by Sob-O-Meter.

        • The Japanese do have their sentimental moments. My daughter reads the occasional Japanese Manga and they are SO romantic, weepingly so, that it is enough to send me into gales of laughter. Very bad of me! Also and PS the girls send the men Valentines chocolate in Japan!

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