Responses to the question ‘What would Santa smell like?’ have revealed a wide range of answers from children all over the world, depending on their age and where they live. Perfumer Penny Williams took the most popular answers and turned them into a fragrance that teachers can use to engage school children in discussions around their sense of smell…
Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA UK, who undertook the research, says ‘We are working with a group of people across the fragrance industry to develop ways to help people understand and benefit from a greater awareness of their sense of smell. Whilst this is a lighthearted approach to get us all in the Christmas spirit which we hope people will try at home, it is part of a wider piece of the work of that group. We have created a new website called fragrancematters.org to help people find out more about the importance of their sense of smell – from new and quirky facts, to taking a deeper dive into the world of olfaction through highlighting wider research, activities and events.’
So, what were their answers? ‘Soot and sweat’ was a popular response, while others answered ‘leather, boot polish and velvet’ and ‘pine trees, from brushing past them on his journey, and from Christmas trees as he places presents under trees in hopeful homes.’ More poetically inclined children decided he might smell of ‘nose-tingling magic and moonlight’ or ‘starry nights from his journey through the night sky’ and even ‘like space, perhaps with a little whisky’. Contributions from the USA included ‘the New York night sky just before snowfall’, and Canadadian children said ‘the first snow of winter on the pine woods’, while responses from Australia included ‘countless beach barbecues’.
Unsurprisingly, food and drink was a major theme, with cinnamon, gingerbread and mince pies appearing most often. Many children think that Santa smells of milk and biscuits, until they reach around 14 years of age, when Santa’s snacks switched to ‘sherry or brandy and mince pies’.
British perfumer Penny Williams, Chairperson of the IFRA UK working group, Vice Chair of the IFRA UK Technical committee and founder of Orchadia Ltd, says: ‘The human sense of smell is incredible. We take around 20,000 breaths a day and each one is an opportunity to learn about our surroundings. Inside our nose are olfactory bulbs, which are linked directly to our brain and create a memory link. That is why our sense of smell is so important to our wellbeing and feeling connected. Through our noses, we can also sense temperature and humidity. Both also affect how well we can smell – and smell is also the flavour of food. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how losing our sense of smell can make us feel disconnected. Our sense of smell isn’t just about the present, it’s about the past and can create feelings of happiness and nostalgia.’ She continues:
‘We want to bring back that innocent joy, comfort and sense of happiness to pupils in the schools we are working with. However, this is such a fun experiment for anyone of any age, so we are inviting people across the UK to spark up the discussion with family and friends. Using everyday objects and a few Christmas treats you can quickly get your olfactory sense working. Our nose is connected to a part of our nervous system which is responsible for detecting heat (chilli) and cold (menthol). So, menthol, found in peppermint and often in toothpaste, has a physical cooling effect that we can feel and mince pies might create a feeling of warmth. The different sensations and feelings evoked by our sense of smell comes from many places and somehow comes together in a wonderful way: rather like Christmas.’
Using these responses, Orchadia created a special fragrance that follows Santa’s journey with a mixture of 48 traditional and modern ingredients that have made an intriguing and bold scent. Most noticeable on first spray are smoke and ozone –using the uniquely woody smokey scent of vetiver and an ingredient that smells like fresh water. Menthol hints at snow flurries in cold air. Also featured are pine needle and davana oil, which is reminiscent of Christmas pudding. There’s even the leathery scent of reins next to reindeer fur, accompanied by earthy patchouli oil. The fresh forest notes are extended with cedar, eventually fading to vanilla and soft moss.
Victoria Osborne, Teacher at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, says ‘The children are going to have so much fun discussing what Santa smells like as part of their STEM learning. It is a really lovely way to get them to use their own personal experiences and memories whilst also learning about the science of smell. We are going to have a science lab that smells like Christmas has come early as we will be taking time to properly breathe in the different layers of smells in mince pies and to take time to notice if something created a warm or a cooling smell.’
Children respond amazingly and often explain smells in the most creatively imaginative ways, so if you find yourself desperate for a way to entertain the kids during the holidays, why not gather together some ingredients from your pantry (and toothpaste from the bathroom!) to create a sensory station in your own home, where children can explore their sense of smell? Ask them to smell each ingredient and describe how it smells. you can use questions we ask people to think about at our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops:
If this was a material, would it be velvet, suede, linen, fluffy towels…?
If this was a musical instrument, which would it be?
Would it be loud or quiet? High or low-pitched? Fast or slow?
What colour would this smell be?
And… which of these would Santa smell of?