Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but it should also smell that way, too! From bright lights and embellished trees at every turn to delicious gingerbread and festive cookies tickling our taste buds, holiday happiness just might be found right under your nose. If you’re looking for easy (and cheap!) homemade ideas to make spirits bright and ring in good cheer, follow your nose, and fill your home with cozy, seasonal scents that scream Christmas.
Credit: Photo: Claudia Totir

You've planned your Christmas dinner menu, made a holiday gift list and checked it twice, and hung all the stockings filled with fun and tiny treasures for your loved ones. All done, right? Not quite. What about filling your home with aromas that are traditionally associated with Christmas, such as cinnamon, peppermint, pine, vanilla, and even baked goods, to make your guests (and Santa) feel welcomed this season? Because when it comes to getting in the holiday spirit, the nose truly knows. We've compiled 10 festive and fragrant ideas using just a few ingredients and a few dollars.

1. Stovetop or Slow-Cooker Potpourri

It's time to ditch the luxury scented candles for a cheaper alternative that smells just as good. Bring a pleasant scent to your home by simmering low and slow, using the tools you already have in your cooking arsenala saucepan and the slow cooker.

  • Scoop up whatever ingredients you already have on hand, like cinnamon or cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, pine branches from the backyard, citrus peels, apple slices, scented oils, vanilla, or ginger. Bring a pan of water to a simmer, or fill your slow cooker with water about an inch below the rim, and drop those ingredients into the pan.
  • As the mixture heats up, it will permeate your home with a warm and spicy scent reminiscent of the holiday season. Add more water as needed if you want your blend to simmer all day. The great thing about making your own potpourri is that you can experiment with any combination of dried fruit and spices. Be sure to toss all the ingredients in the trash after you're done.

2. Homemade Vanilla Extract

Just before your guests arrive for the holiday dinner, put three to four tablespoons of vanilla extract into a small oven-safe bowl and place in the oven at 275°F for about an hour. In just a few minutes, your home will smell like dessert. You can also start right now prepping this two-ingredient DIY vanilla extract to spritz the rooms in your home or to give as a gift.

3. Perfumed Pine Cones

Sure, you can buy scented pine cones at practically any home store during the holidays, but you can also save money and time by making your own. If you're fortunate enough to have a few pine trees in the backyard, pick up a few scattered cones. Make sure you wash and dry them, and then spray them with your favorite vanilla, citrus, or cinnamon-scented oil. Place them in a plastic bag for a day to ensure the fragrance locks into each one. When you remove the pine cones from the bag the next day, place them in a shallow bowl or vase to make your home smell like Christmas.  

Credit: Photo: AnjelikaGretskaia

4. Odorous Ornaments

Nothing says Christmas and quality family time quite like creating your own homemade keepsakes to hang on the tree.

  • To make smell-good ornaments, mix your own dough of applesauce, school glue, and cinnamon in a bowl with your fingers. Using a rolling pin, roll portions of the mixture between two sheets of plastic wrap and, when flattened, make the shapes you want with cookie cutters. Before putting these into the oven, make sure you use a straw to make a hole at the top where you want the ornaments to hang. Keep repeating until you've run out of dough.
  • Once you’ve cut out all your ornaments, place them on a cookie sheet and bake to dry. When the shapes cool completely, you can either hang a ribbon or yarn through the hole at the top to hang, or you can begin bedazzling the ornaments with the little ones using fabric paint or glitter. Keep in mind that even though these smell incredible, they’re not edible.

5. Sweet-Smelling Garland

Using yarn and dried orange slices, thread the yarn through the slices to make a homemade garland that looks bright and smells delicious, too! You can also put those Christmas cookie cutters to use by cutting fun shapes into the orange peels and making a small hole at the top using a needle. You can hang those star or tree-shaped orange peels as ornaments or string the peels as garland to wrap around the tree.

6. Fragrant Fire Starters

You’ll probably be baking plenty of cupcakes and bite-sized holiday appetizers for the season anyway, so you might as well get more mileage out of your muffin tin with aromatic fire starters, which are just lined muffin cups filled with hot wax, spices, and herbs that can be placed in the fireplace. Here’s an easy tutorial to get you started.

7. Aromatic Pomanders

A pomander is basically a big old ball of perfume usually made with clove-studded fruits like oranges or apples that can be hung from a fireplace mantel or on a Christmas tree as garland. Making spiced-orange pomanders is so simple, even your kids can get in on the decorating fun! Not to mention, pomanders can be created with items you already have in your kitchen, and they make for a beautiful and naturally-scented centerpiece for the dinner table.

Credit: Photo: karma_pema

  • First, grab a piece of firm citrus fruit from the fruit bowl, toothpicks or nails, a jar of whole cloves, and a vegetable peeler.
  • Next, use the vegetable or fruit peeler to make designs in the skin of the fruit. A spiral or swirl pattern will definitely impress guests!
  • Then, use the toothpicks or nails to make a row of holes in the fruit and push the cloves into those holes. Of course, you can stick the cloves in without making the holes first, but your fingertips might suffer. Whether you keep the studs in a straight line or place them sporadically, let the fruit serve as a blank canvas for you to decide what clove-filled motif best suits you and your family.
  • Lastly, after decorating, you can roll the pomanders in a spiced mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and more cloves to have your very own homemade air freshener to put in bowls around the house or to give away as a hostess gift. Typically, citrusy pomanders last up to four days. Just make sure you store them in the fridge at night to prevent the fruit from getting soft and moldy.


8. Incensed Oil Candles

Making your own liquid candles at home is certainly more cost-efficient than buying wax candles. Break out the olive oil (or any oil that burns) in your pantry, and fill a canning jar with it, along with vanilla beans, pine needles, berries, cinnamon, cloves, or orange slices. Light the lantern wick at the top of the jar, and you’re well on your way to a lovely smell and a warm glow to really set the ambiance in your home this season.

9. Redolent Reed Diffusers

We all know store-bought reed diffusers can be a bit pricey, but what you may not know is how effortless and affordable they are to make.

  • All you need are these five simple ingredients: A diffuser bottle, Christmas-scented oils, wooden skewers (got some kebab skewers left over from grilling season?), vodka, and water.
  • Fill the diffuser bottle with water, a couple of tablespoons of vodka, and a few tablespoons of the oil you have at home; mix the ingredients together. Finally, put one end of the wooden skewers into the scented solution to soak, and then reverse the skewer to allow the other end to soak. Rotate the skewers from week to week for a sweet smell that has some staying power.

10. Infused Scented Waters

In addition to filling jars with healthy fruit and water to stay hydrated this season, why not create a water infusion with spices and herbs as well? Simply mix your favorite ingredients (oranges with cinnamon or apples with nutmeg) in heat-resistant glass jars with lids, fill with water, and heat in the microwave. Once you remove the lid, the scent will spread through your home. The best part? You can always reheat for a long-lasting fragrance. Be sure to use oven gloves or mittens when you remove the jar form the microwave. It's likely hot, and you don't want to burn your hands.

If you’re having company over for the holidays, create these scented homemade combinations to make your guests (and your home) feel all warm and fuzzy inside.