The scents guaranteed to make you feel Christmassy

What makes a festive fragrance? Melanie McDonagh discovers the most evocative scents to wear now

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Best Christmas perfumes to spritz this Christmas
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Melanie McDonagh19 December 2023

Scent enters the Christmas story quite early on. If you recall, the Three Wise Men from the East paid homage to the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Besides their resonances – gold for kings, frankincense for worship and myrrh for anointing the dead – two are quite something in the way of fragrance.

Frankincense is a hard resin exuded by, yes, the frankincense tree and has a haunting earthy, spicy, woody smell. Myrrh is an oily, gelatinous substance exuded from incisions in the bark of a tree and the scent is warm, aromatic and pungent. Together, they’re much prized in Chinese medicine, and in honour of the season, they’re components of some lovely Christmas scents.

Christmas is the season of indulgence. From the mystic fragrance of cloves, star anise and cardamom in a comforting glass of mulled wine, to the heady scent of cinnamon bursting out of a hot mince pie.

So, what should a beautiful Christmas scent conjure up? Roja Dove, the perfumer, has strong feelings about it from his childhood. “Christmas is of course a time of nostalgia and tradition. Fragrances infused with cinnamon, cedarwood, clove, labdanum, patchouli, sandalwood, ambergris, orris, musk, and vanilla help bring to mind the spicy-facets of the festive season: mulled wine, mince pies, brandy-butter, and fruit-packed puddings.

“Christmas is the season of indulgence. From the mystic fragrance of cloves, star anise and cardamom in a comforting glass of mulled wine, to the heady scent of cinnamon bursting out of a hot mince pie, the scents we associate with Christmas immediately conjure images of roaring log fires and treasured time with family,” he adds.

“For me, the essence of Christmas is evocative of my childhood memories. It is the scent of a Christmas tree pervading the house — the majesty of nature inside your home. It is the delicate sweetness of Frankincense - one of the first gifts ever to be given - as old as Christmas itself.” Yes to all that.

So, the perfect scent should have some elements of the season itself: something warm and evocative, with, perhaps, frankincense and myrrh, spices, pine and wood notes. Believe it or not, there’s actually a scent by Maison Margiela called By the Fireplace, which conjures up the fantasy of the season.

Here are the perfumes that are especially apt for Christmas. Alas, one of the most evocative of all, Caron’s Nuit de Noel from 1922, which recalls the scents of going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is now no longer available. But happily these are.

1. Roja Dove, Aoud for Harrods

Harrods Aoud perfume

In its striking gold and green bottle, this fragrance is rich and exotic. There’s frankincense and myrrh as well as cinnamon, patchouli, oud (of course) and rose, the most heady and evocative fragrances of the east.

£495 for 100ml, Harrods

2. Tom Ford Myrrhe Mystère Eau De Parfum

Tom Ford

This is a fairly recent creation but it's flying off the shelves. It's the scent of the season for the trend conscious. As the name suggests, it contains myrrh but also a vanilla accord, which is simply the most enticing combination. It’s soft, sensual and unisex.

£290 for 50ml, Harvey Nichols

3. Jo Malone, Myrrh and Tonka Cologne Intense

Jo Malone

This combines the warmth and sweetness of the tonka bean with the resiny aromatic myrrh — a really attractive combination. Of all the Jo Malone scents, this is the most invitingly Christmassy and classy. And obviously, it looks a treat.

100ml for £150; 50ml for £106, Jo Malone

4. Diptyque, L’Eau Trois


Now, this is an interesting scent. The first made by this house, it has myrrh and also the scent of the aromatic bushes of Northern Greece; it’s said to recall the coniferous shrubs around the monasteries of Mount Athos. Or as one observer remarked, “it smells of churches”. Which, I say, is a very good thing. It has a lovely amber colour.

£125 for 100ml, Diptyque