Many people associate a special smell with the holidays.
Warm gingerbread. Crushed peppermint. Frosty martinis. Freshly cut pine.
Chances are, a scented candle recreates your Christmas memory, though we are sorry to report that if your remembrance is the cocktail, Yankee Candle’s Alpine Martini has been discontinued.
“During the holidays, people spend more time indoors, and lighting candles is a cozy, nesting thing,” says Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst for the market research firm NPD Group. “It’s all about emotion.”
This time of year, candles seem to be everywhere. About 80 percent of Americans use some type of scent in their home, because it makes them “feel relaxed,” according to a 2018 NPD Group study. The candle business (which had sales of $3.2 billion in 2015, according to market research firm Mintel) is booming. About 70 percent of sales occur between October and December, said Kathy LaVanier, president of the National Candle Association.
“Our sense of smell is one of the most important senses we have,” says Laura Slatkin, founder and executive chairwoman of Nest Fragrances, who has been in the candle business for 26 years. “At the holidays, candles are a festive tradition, like your family’s favorite stuffing.”
Candles in fancy packaging are stacked up as gift suggestions and impulse items in department stores, supermarkets, fancy boutiques and artsy craft fairs, costing from five bucks to hundreds of dollars. “Candle pricing is based on ingredients, just like wine,” says Linda G. Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation. The higher the price, the choicer and finer the ingredients.
Artisan candles have become a thing. One of these makers is Otherland, whose 2018 limited-edition holiday scent is a “woodsy and warm” Fallen Fir. The company, based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sells its candles poured in artful glass tumblers that it suggests repurposing for scrunchie storage. The candles come with a tiny box of matching matches, a disappearing yet necessary home accessory.
Home fragrance became popular in the 1980s when potpourri burst onto the nation’s coffee tables, according to LaVanier. In 1982, Arkansas entrepreneur Patti Upton created the Smell of Christmas, a bag of wood shavings, pine cones and berries laced with fragrant spices and oils that became a national sensation. Ten years later, she was selling a million of the $10 cellophane bags of holiday “decorative home fragrance.” Upton died last year at age 79. But her company, Aromatique, holds the registered trademark for “The Smell of Christmas.” And 36 years after the seasonal scent was introduced, its most popular form is a candle.
Why has it lasted? “It’s the smell that many remember from their grandmother’s house: cinnamon, oranges and spices,” says Chad Evans, Aromatique’s president.