On top of all the sparkling visual beauty, Christmas is awesomely full of delicious food and beverage (we don't usually buy pop, but I can't resist the nostalgia of Coca-Cola's Holiday Edition glass bottles every year, plus, doesn't it just taste so much better in glass?), and even more delightful to me: awesome smells (because did you know, and I'm sure you already do, that the sense of smell is the sense which has the strongest link to memory?), so when I pull out our mistletoe Yankee Candle (my favorite Christmas candle, what's yours?) I instantly feel connected to Christmases past, well, my Christmases past. . .
If I want to feel connected to Christmases past past. . .past. . . then I turn to two other great Christmas-related smells: pomanders and paperwhites (ok, to be fair, paperwhites don't smell great, but it's still a smell I associate with Christmas, and they're beautiful). Pomanders in general (a perfumed ball or bag) date all the way back to the Middle Ages, and the tradition of making "modern" orange pomanders and forcing bulbs to bloom during the winter both became popular in the 1800's. If you haven't already caught on to it, I enjoy participating in long-standing traditions. It makes me feel part of things bigger than myself, and which are, ultimately, my history as well. Anyways, that said. . .
To make pomanders all you need are oranges or your preferred citrus fruit, and a bag of whole cloves (buying the small McCormick clove container will cost you an arm and a leg, if you have a local international market that packages spices in bulk, they're usually super cheap, and you'll have enough cloves for years). . .
You can use rubber bands or tape to mark out patterns and make perfect lines, but I usually just eyeball it. Depending on the thickness of your citrus skin, you may be able to just push the cloves in, or you can use a skewer or the tip of a sharp knife to make holes.
I have never worried about mine molding, I just throw them out then they do. But if you want them to last longer, up to a year, you can toss them in orris root powder before displaying them. No idea how it works and I've never tried it, but that's the word on the street. Anyways, these smell awesome!
To force paperwhites, you can buy a kit at most big box retailers or hardware stores, or you can buy your bulbs separately and force them in loose potting soil or other growing medium, or even in a bulb forcing vase or nestled in wet pebbles.
I bought a kit, but instead of using the ugly pot it came in, I divvied up the reconstituted growing medium into various glass jars and nestled my bulbs into the soil with about 1/3 of the bulb above the soil.
Keep them in a room where they can get some natural light, and after they are spent, toss them on the compost pile. There are ways to try to preserve some of the life in the bulbs and replant outside, but forcing bulbs is hard on them and I'm not sure its worth the trouble.
*In order to keep your paperwhites from drooping over, follow this advice and water with a mixture that is 4-6% alcohol, which works out to about 1 part water to 8 parts acohol - vodka, gin, or even rubbing alcohol (dilute this even more) if you can think of better uses for the gin : ) .
I'll share more pictures once they are in full bloom.