Celebrating Winter

Four Scents Team


The days are short and cold, punctuated by frost or snow. The odd day when the sun shows up, we make the most of the low, warm light. Defiantly, we choose this season to collectively celebrate, countering the dark days.

At Four Scents, we turned to nature to find a defining word for the season, and it was “Rest” that summarised this best for us. Merriam-Webster gives us a list of meanings – “freedom from activity or labour” “peace of mind or spirit” “a rhythmic silence in music” among a few. Cambridge Dictionary simply puts it: “rest verb (stop)”. Nature stops. It ceases growing, producing, staying dormant in preparation and gathering energy for the rapid growth that spring brings.
It goes without saying that Christmas dominates our winter festivities, but what other celebrations are enjoyed around the world in winter?


The next most widely know celebration is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This eight-day “festival of lights” happens on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, falling between late November to mid-December. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew, commemorating the recovery and rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century. When those who recovered the Temple looked to light it’s Menorah (a candelabrum with nine branches), they found a single uncontaminated batch of oil. Miraculously, this one-day supply lasted eight days, hence the length of the festival. So, central to the festivities, a menorah is lit. The unique central candle is known as the shammash (meaning “attendant”) – this is used to light one candle each night. Blessings are said before or after the candles are lit at sundown. The menorah is placed in a window or doorway to let others know the joy of the holiday. After the candles are lit, it’s customary for children to spin the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter that refers to the miracle of the oil. Other celebrations that make up the festivities are singing traditional holiday songs and eating foods fried in olive oil, such as potato pancakes known (latke), filled doughnuts (sufganiyot), cheese and dairy products (though these won’t be mixed with meat). Hannukah Gelt (or money) is often distributed to children, usually in small coins.   


Sankta Lucia

Saint Lucy’s Day, known as Sankta Lucia, is celebrated in Scandinavia on 13th December. This festival celebrates a 4th century martyr called Lucia of Syracuse who brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a candle lit wreath on her head to light her way and free her hands to carry as much food as she possibly could. Prior to calendar reforms, this fell on the shortest day and was celebrated as a festival of light. Each town elects its own St. Lucia, who leads a church procession to begin the festival. She is followed by girls dressed in white with red sashes wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys wearing white pyjama-like costumes, singing traditional songs. Schools close at midday to prepare for the holiday. Traditionally, the eldest daughter dresses in white, serving other family members and visitors coffee, glogg (a type of mulled wine), lingonberry juice and baked treats, such as ginger biscuits and saffron buns (lussekatter). It’s also traditional to serve a round coffee cake with seven candles placed in a circle. This festival is blended with pagan tradition called Lussinatten, where no work was to be done. Legend was that a feared enchantress, Lussi, punished anyone who dared to work on the longest night of the year, as spirits and trolls roamed the earth. However, the idea of the celebration is to encourage rest and help one live the winter days with enough light – particularly as the days are notoriously short in Scandinavia. 

Winter Celebrations-Yalda 


An ancient Persian festival, Yalda, is celebrated on the winter solstice, which falls on either 20th, 21st or 22nd December. Like many solstice celebrations, Yalda, meaning “birth” marks the end of shorter days and the victory of light over darkness. Extended family gather together and enjoy a feast placed on a low table with a heater underneath known as a korsi. Food is central to the festivities, including dried fruit, nuts and sweetmeats. Some foods have particular superstitious significance – summer fruits, especially watermelons and pomegranates are believed to protect you from illness in winter. These two are both particularly symbolic – even Yalda Night cakes are made and decorated in watermelon shapes! Eating garlic protects from pain in the joints, while pears, carrots and green olives protect from insect and scorpion bites. A special sweet called kafbikh is especially made for Yalda in some regions. Poetry readings by Hafez, a prominent Persian poet, are popular as well as an epic poem called the Shahnameh. Staying up to welcome the morning sun is common, as well as storytelling, dancing, conversation and jokes. In the past, fires were lit all night, but this has been replaced by decorating and lighting the house with candles. Another custom is to give dried fruit and nuts wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon to a bride as well as friends and family. This festival provides rest in breaking winter’s monotony with light-hearted celebration.



The 26th December – 1st January sees the celebration of Kwanzaa. This festival has fairly recent origins, being introduced in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga in California to commemorate African American culture. It is now observed worldwide by people of African descent, bringing together people of different backgrounds and inclusive of all faiths. Kwanzaa is a Swahili phrase that means “first fruits”, referring to the ancient African harvest festivals. There are a unique set of values and each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of their seven principlesUmoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). A candle is lit each night on a Kinara (a candle holder with seven candles). The pan-African colours are represented with three red candles on the left, three green ones on the right and a black candle in the centre. Homes are decorated with objects of African art, and traditional attire made from colourful cloth such as kente is worn, including kaftans. Traditional food is eaten, with fresh fruit particularly representing African idealism. Drinks are shared with a common chalice called a Kikombe cha Umoja being passed around. Other ceremonial elements include a reading of the African pledge, reflection on pan-African colours, drumming and musical selections and artistic performances. The festival culminates on the 6th day with a communal feast known as Karamu Ya Imani, the feast of faith.  



New Year’s Eve holds particular significance in Japan in a festival called Omisoka. Originally held on the final day of the twelfth lunar month, Omisoka means “the great thirtieth day” (changed to 31st December at the end of the 19th century). The year is concluded by completing important activities, such as repaying debts, purification (driving out evil spirits and bad luck) and house cleaning, so that the final hours of the year can be spent relaxing. Family and friends gather for parties, including the viewing of the four-hour Kohaku Uta Gassen (Red/White Singing Battle) or watch large martial arts cards. This is rooted in ancient culture; the practice of showing reverence to the gods of the current and upcoming years. An hour before midnight, people gather to have a bowl of toshikoshi udon, based on the tradition of eating long noodles to represent crossing over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines where a ceremony is held to purify all uncleanliness of the year. Shinto shrines prepare amazake (a traditional sweet drink made from fermented rice) to pass to the crowds. Most temples have a Buddhist bell that is struck 108 times – one for each of the earthly temptations believed to cause suffering. Families also make osechi (traditional new year foods resembling bento boxes) on the last few days of the year, which are then consumed during the first few days of the new year. Though Omisoka has many elements, the theme of purification runs throughout, signifying rest for the conscience to begin the new year afresh.


Chinese New Year

We couldn’t go by without mentioning Chinese New Year. The traditional lunisolar New Year is observed on the new moon that appears between 21st January and 20th February. This 15-day festival (3 being official holidays while the rest follow specific customs for certain days) is rich with symbolism and has strict rules regarding what should/shouldn’t be given, used or eaten in order to protect people from bad fortune, and maximise opportunities for good fortune as the year begins. Traditionally a festival to honour deities and ancestors, Chinese New Year is associated with several varying myths and customs. Beforehand, houses are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away ill-fortune and make way for good luck. Houses are decorated with plum trees, specific flowers, red paper-cuts and couplets (lines from traditional poetry). New Year’s Eve sees a reunion feast for families with a family portrait after the relatives have gathered. Dishes vary, but usually include a communal hot pot to signify the coming together of family members. At midnight, fireworks and firecrackers are lit and Dragon/Lion Dances are held. New Year’s Day sees more house gatherings and giving money in red envelopes to children and the elderly reflecting good luck and honourability. The Lantern Festival on the 15th day culminates the celebrations, where families walk the streets carrying red oval lanterns. Other traditions include the wearing of red, New Year’s songs, and exchanging small gifts (food and sweets), wrapped in red or gold paper.


In a season of rest and recalibration, these festivals intersperse the slower days with opportunities for togetherness, gifting, good food and extra light to contrast the darkness. We chose to mirror this through a compilation of smoky, grounding essential oils interspersed with spices to bring in that touch of warmth and light. We invite you to embrace this comforting fragrance to bring a sense of tranquillity to your home with our beautiful selection of home fragrances. Candles bring in that element of cheer, while indulging in a soothing soak is sure to help ease the winter blues. Or in the spirit of the festivities, these make luxurious gifts for friends and families. Why not share the joy in bringing the scent of calm and clarity to your loved ones?


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