The Super-Simple Way to Make Holiday Traditions Feel Extra-Special

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Credit: Reagen Taylor

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The holiday season is well underway, and with it, a roller coaster of emotions. That’s why Abigail Cook Stone, co-founder co-founder and CEO of candle company Otherland, recommends leaning into the holiday traditions that bring you joy.

“Every holiday season comes with its gripes,” she says. “You still may have to deal with awkward family gatherings, frustrating travel plans, buying lots of gifts for other people, etc. So make it a priority to identify what elements of the holidays make you happy and go push yourself to make time and space for those.”

Abigail also suggests making your holiday traditions even more special by adding scent — and saving that scent just for this time of year. “Scent is the strongest trigger of memory and emotion,” she explains. Unlike other sensory inputs (touch, taste, sight, sound) which get processed by the thalamus, scent goes straight to the olfactory bulb. And the olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which are involved in regulating emotions and encoding memories. That means you can easily associate a smell with positive, comforting memories. Pretty cool, right?

Read on (or listen in) to find out how Abigail scents her holidays to make meaningful memories — and how you can, too.

No time to read? Listen to highlights from our conversation with Abigail instead.

Light a Candle

One of the easiest ways to add scent is to light a candle — while you wrap presents, perfect a festive cocktail, or watch holiday movies (just for example). Abigail doubles down on that pine-y Christmas tree scent by lighting Fallen Fir while she and her partner have a tree-decorating party.

“Even if it’s just the two of us, we light up our Fallen Fir scent, put on the “NOW! That’s What I Call Christmas” playlist, get out the champagne coupes and add a splash of red pomegranate for a festive touch, and go to town on the tree! “

Pro tip: For maximum scent enjoyment, Abigail recommends lighting multiple candles of the same scent. And, if you’re having company, light those candles 45 minutes to an hour before they arrive — but don’t let them burn too long. “After about 3-4 hours absolute maximum, it’s time to extinguish your candle. Any longer than that and your wick has likely mushroomed (leaving you at risk for soot formation).”

Credit: Courtesy of Otherland Candles

DIY a Fragrant Centerpiece

If you’re feeling crafty, nothing says holidays for Abigail like a centerpiece of pomanders. “You take oranges and poke little holes in them and stick cloves in, making beautiful designs, swirls, and so forth. Sometimes you tie a little velvet ribbon on them. They’re just adorable and they smell incredible. That fresh orange zest, and on top of it, the spice from the cloves. You can’t walk by a pomander without remarking, This smells so good.

Another easy and fragrant centerpiece? Winter greenery. “If you head to your local florist or flower market, lots of beautiful greenery is available around the holidays. Fragrant branches of pine, spruce, and evergreen (as well as magnolia leaves, holly and more!) are readily available and affordable,” Abigail says. “You may even be able to score some clippings for free that can be bunched together to create a decorative swag, wreath, or garland for your table. A light spritz of water will help to keep the fragrance fresh.”

Credit: Carly Diaz

Bake Something That Smells Amazing

Ginger snaps and gingerbread are natural candidates, but for Abigail, it’s sugar cookies, specifically her mom’s special sugar cookies that they baked together every year when she was growing up. “They’re very thin and light and delicate buttery, with a little bit of salt that just brings out all the flavors. They are to die for.” Not to mention they make her kitchen smell like butter and vanilla. She adds that even though “younger me would consider them ‘unhealthy’ and ‘bad,’ in my evolved definition of health, I recognize that honoring my mom and our special memories together by making the cookies myself is very much a healthy thing for me to do.”

Not much of a baker? Make stovetop potpourri. “Mulling spice blends or good old cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom pods, along with orange peels and slices boiled on the stove or warmed with wine or cider are a beautiful way to fill your home with nostalgic, old-timey holiday scents,” Abigail says. “Save the fully intact spices (aka not grounds or fresh) and reheat for the following weekend. No one will know!”

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