A Holiday Memory

It’s holiday time at The Cliffhanger – latest column is out now!

By Jennifer Schleich

Whether you are two or ninety-two there is a magical quality to the holiday season.

Snow, caroling, hot chocolate, twinkling lights and greeting cards arriving in the mail all add up to a heightened feeling of expectation. Perhaps it’s the remembered anticipation of gift opening echoing across the years from your childhood. Maybe you delighted in pulling the huge cardboard box full of special decorations out of the crawlspace and helping your mother string them up. Maybe you are recalling the happy arrival of snow-covered guests at the doorway. Memory is a powerful thing.

Even to this day the smell of clementines makes me think of Christmas. As soon as they start arriving in the stores I get a little flutter of excitement in my gut. The moment when my kitchen is infused with the smell of that simple orange fruit is the moment when I know Christmas is coming. The two are invariably tangled in my mind.

I don’t think my mom had saught out to make clementines a Christmas tradition for me – I’m not even sure they are for her – but this tiny, seemingly insignificant fruit with its sweet citrus smell has permeated my memories for as many years back as I can recall.

Like those pastel chocolate party mints, having our front window painted in a holiday scene, the local Santa Claus parade, or visiting my best friend’s house on Christmas Day evening. The magic of the holidays is wrapped up in our happy memories of our oft-repeated activities.

While I was updating my son’s baby book the other day I leafed back through the pages and came to rest on his first Christmas. At the very bottom of the page, printed in neat black letters was a short phrase, followed by a gaping blank space, “Christmas traditions we started…”

I closed the book. That blank space is an annoyance, but I can’t for the life of me think of something with which to fill it. Any holiday traditions that will become important to him are ones waiting to be shaped over many years of his childhood. Maybe someday when he’s older, when he has memories of holidays past, I will know what to write. As for now, it must remain blank. I don’t believe traditions are things that you purposely create; I don’t believe they can be forced.

Traditions are funny like that: taking shape slowly, over time, beginning without intention or importance, and eventually becoming essential to our experience.

Merry Christmas from me to you, and whatever holiday you celebrate, may it be great, safe, and full of love.

- Jenn Schleich

We Go Way Back, Snow and Me

Check out my latest column in The Cliffhanger!

By Jennifer Schleich

“I close my eyes and breathe deeply; I smell snow. That magical, wonderful, cold smell that means winter is coming.

There are two scents which I find extremely attractive: the smell of fresh cut grass and the smell of snow. Throw out your cologne – who needs it? I’m literally smiling just thinking about it. It’s already snowed twice. I even saw some sticking to the ground briefly one morning. It might be too early for a blanket of snow but it’s coming. I know it and I can smell it in the air.

I know that look I get sometimes. You know that look right? The leery sideways glance that says this girl is crazy. But I’ll tell you I’m never wrong (at least in this aspect of my life). It’s a strange thing, half scent and half feeling. The scent: cold, but humid, and clean and fresh. The feeling: a shiver. Maybe that part is a brisk north wind. To me the smell of imminent snowfall is completely natural. It’s mind boggling that some have never experienced it.

Johan Lundström is a smell and taste researcher in Philadelphia. He says you can’t smell snow. I say phooey to him. He argues the mucus layer in our smell receptors dries up during the winter, but loosens when humidity rises, such as right before a snow storm. According to Mr. Johan Lundström, if you are outside during this transition your sense of smell literally becomes more acute. He says over time some people have associated this change with oncoming snow. Johan Lundström likes to take the magic out of life.

The latent scientist in me is fascinated, but my imagination is disgruntled. I like to think my new acute sense of smell during changing weather gives me the “power” to experience the subtle smell of snow.

I’m sure I can smell snow. Is that crazy?

Just think about snow.

But don’t get carried away. Don’t think about February and eight foot snow banks, because that’s depressing. Think about November, December, the first snow flakes, the Christmas lights, the glitz and glam. Think about how freshly fallen snow glitters on the ground. Think about fur coats and wool scarves and the smell of cinnamon, pine needles and wood smoke. Think about little children rushing outside in their shiny snow gear to build a shiny snow family. Think about sleigh rides and jingle bells. Think about the crystalline geometric patterns of frost climbing up the windowpanes but don’t think about your energy bill if you have frost climbing up your windowpanes.

That’s how I feel when I smell snow. There’s nothing crazy about that.”