The Magical Scent of the Holidays

By Tom Havran
It’s a wonder that I don’t equate the scent of a live Christmas tree with the smell of chaos, frustration and desperation rather than holiday cheer. I grew up in a nine-member Iowa farm family, and a Christmas tree wasn’t necessary to our livelihood; if anything, the cost and trouble associated with it was a burden for our working family to endure.

Our Christmas tree in one of its better years.

Our Christmas tree in one of its better years.

Some years, we splurged and made a trip to a garden center – where I hurriedly picked out a tree and dragged it into the car headlights for illumination. Two quick honks from my family waiting in the car meant ‘yes’ while one long, dismal honk meant ‘keep looking’. Other years, we’d resort to culling a scruffy, prickly red cedar from a ditch or fence row on the farm.

We didn’t have a proper tree stand, just a coffee can wrapped in last year’s gift wrap and filled with gravel and water. The tree would usually fall over, spilling the water and rocks and breaking the ever-dwindling number of ornaments. Half of the lights wouldn’t work, the decorations didn’t match and taking the thing down became yet another messy, time-consuming chore. In retrospect, this seasonal scenario becomes comic for the sheer level of madness and stress it induced.

But I never gave up on our tree. To me, it was the centerpiece of the holiday, and its scent never failed to work its magic on the entire family. Something wonderful happened when the room lights were turned off and that scent filled our noisy, crowded home. I recall being small enough to lie under the boughs, gazing up into the lit branches and breathing in the fresh, green perfume of those natural trees. It was my first and, to this day, keenest aromatherapy experience.

More than the stress involved, I remember the scent of those pines, firs and juniper trees and being struck with wonder how the aroma could mysteriously make us all come together and feel such merriment. In any given year, our tree could have been the rattiest, dumpiest-looking tree in town, but the fragrance alone, made all of our hardships, stress and seasonal disappointment not just endurable, but happy and remembered fondly today.

I now understand how the volatile essential oils contained in the wood, resin and needles of Christmas trees are responsible for the scents they give off. These same oils are distilled and bottled for use in aromatherapy, home and body care products. It takes about four pounds of live tree branches and needles to produce one ounce of pine, balsam fir needle or juniper essential oil. While I still enjoy the scent of a fresh Christmas tree, I also depend on these easy essential oil applications to create a quick (and trouble-free) holiday atmosphere in my home.

Christmas Tree in a Bowl Diffusion


An assortment of natural pine cones, dried mosses, seed pods and evergreen sprigs

Pine oil

Balsam fir needle oil

Juniper berry oil

Directions: Arrange your botanicals in a large bowl or glass canister. Sprinkle mixture with 3-4 drops of each essential oil. Re-apply oils as needed.

Christmas Tree in a Mist Room Spray


4 oz. water

8 drops each of pine, balsam fir needle and juniper berry oil

Spray mister bottle

Directions: Combine water and oils in bottle, shake vigorously and mist the air throughout your home.

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