The Green Man & Fragrance of Christmas

Christmas in the Green

It was New Years Day, the Great Hall doorway bedecked in the red and green of Ivy, holly and red berry shadow the portent felt to come. The wind slithers its chill beneath the oaken door floating tiny snow flakes that sparkle before wetting the herb strewn floor turning to shining water droplets by the warmth of the blazing fire, the great Yule log. For fifteen days the feast of Christmas had been in play. The air is heavy and tainted by the smell of candle and reed light burning bright light to cheer and banish cold dark night away. The air smells of roast meats and foods, garlic and onion, of warm breads of dank clothing, sweat and dogs, mulled wine and spilled ale, crushed strewing herbs all souped to the feeling of conviviality and warmth. The harping is silenced by the sound of Horse and Rider coming closer. Conversation dampens and ceases with an uneasy sense of expectation as eyes turn toward the doors.

The thud of heavy horse hooves sounds outside, loud and worrying. Jingle bell notes of steel accoutrements sound in rhythm to the thudding hooves. Chill fears creep to heart and stomach preluding the unexpected, the unknown. The knights reach for sword and dagger whilst the damsels and ladies cluster. Only Arthur the King remains undisturbed.

The great doors swung open as though by a hidden force and in rides a great knight in full armour emblazoned green and his destrier painted green and the knight himself of green pallor. The stranger held a large and menacing axe in one hand but wore no breastplate, neck-guard or helmet or other battlement protections, and in his other hand he held a sprig of holly. Around his broad shoulder hangs a garland of ivy and holly with pines and evergreens woven fast. His presence distils a sharp note of freshness a cleansing feeling that pushes aside the redolent warmth and yet there is the smell of earth and fern of scented power without powder, so smelled Purdue the court perfumer laying back at table scenting the air like the war hounds by Arthurs great chair.

Now was this scented giant from the Fougere or Woody family? Purdue began to sniff but surely Aromatic? Surely a hint of hay from the now pawing steed, oakmoss and musk are strong yet the first notes were floral like but no lavender or clary sage like the great Fougere Royal he foresaw to come. Whilst some elements were there it was the Woody facet that shone through with pine absolute and cypress and fir balsam the epitome, when skilfully blended,  of exhilarating winter.  Ah he felt the touch of vine and cypress that tall dark harbinger of shade and shadows to another place and the woods of the forest sharp and dark. Could that be the intense cologne of that London persona Jo Malone simply called Cypress and Grapevine. Then he had it! Something yet beyond cypress, it was simply a top aromatic note overlaying the woods and greens, fresh and spicy an element there for sure of Christmas citrus, mor sharp than orange. All held in the embrace of musk and warming spices and the leaves which doth wilt in the warmth of the great hall. What else could it be, he mused, but the great Chanel Allure in in its Extreme Sports perception, yet at that time still to come .

The Knight roared a challenge. “I am not here for idle chatter. I have come in search of the bravest knight of the land, for this Round Table, I heard, is where one can find the most valiant of the land. By this holly berry branch of red and green you must know that I come in peace. I challenge that knight to strike the first blow with my axe. Know only that if I survive the first blow, I may return a stroke in kind one year and a day from now.”

Gawaine the nephew of the king and Champion stood forward. With one fell stroke, Gawain’s axe clove through the stranger’s s neck, the head falling to the herb strewn stone paviours, to be sure, yet the body of the Green Knight remained firm, as sturdy as if the head were still there. The body strode over to claim it’s head; and holding it by the hair with one hand, the body grabbed hold of the horse’s reins. Stepping in the stirrup, the body strode aloft and the head, still dangling, turned to Gawaine, raised one eyebrow and its mouth said, “Gawaine, in one year and one day, find me at the Green Chapel. I am known as the Knight of the Green Chapel.”

This Christmas tale of course is drawn from The Arthurian cycle best exemplified by the medieval literature entitled ‘the Matter of Britain’ and the troubadour Chrètien de Troyes. In essence it is the enactment of the death of winter that comes each year. In English tradition Holly King and Oak King fight it out at each of the solstices.

The previously mentioned cypress was, along with vetiver, my introduction to the pungent smells of aromatherapy.  I love those two smells. Cypress has a fresh, clean aroma that is herbaceous, spicy, with a slightly woody evergreen coniferous scent. The uplifting aroma has a very soothing emotional quality that provides comfort during times of grief and sadness. Cypress trees are often found planted near burial grounds. I feel it to be fresh, lingering, pine-like, resinous, slightly smoky with a sweet, balsamic undertone. The scent is very evocative of a forest setting, bestowing a soothing and refreshing ambience.

In aromatherapy according to Valerie Worwood in her book the Fragrant Mind, the personality of Cypress is characterised by wisdom, strength, and uprightness like the tree. In practice, cypress is most often associated with upper respiratory issues. A less well-known property of cypress essential oil is the ability to stem bleeding, promoting blood clotting so having hemostatic and astringent qualities. The astringent properties allow cypress oil to tighten tissues, strengthening hair follicles and making them less likely to fall out! The hemostatic properties in cypress oil reduce the flow of blood and promote clotting where needed. These two beneficial qualities work together to promote healing for wounds, cuts and open sores quickly.

As with jo Malones Cypress & Grapevine this cypress note features strongly in Gucci’s’ Winter Melody Scented Water and others seeking to achieve the smell of this season. As with our folk romance hero, the green knight, it is the gloss green colour of the season that draws us to the base of the accords where ‘spikiness’ gives way to the sense of repose and renewal such as the surprising rose used by Gucci. Any therapeutic benefit must lie within the genuine essential oil or absolute and certainly that fleeting sense of coniferous reality will only come from natural materials.

Red and green together be seen

In the dark time of the year

Red and green together be seen

In the time of dread and fear

Green for the thorn of the holly leaf

That shines in candlelight

That holds the hope of evergreen

That glimmers in the night.  Maddy Prior

Jan Kusmirek ©  November 2021

About Jan Kuśmirek

Having brushed with the Security Services in my late teens and early twenties, I went on to become one of the world's leading exponents of aromatic medicine and skin care. I am an accepted authority on the subject and a sought-after lecturer. In the last few years I have turned my hand to literature and am the author of three spy novels that retell the European confilcts of the 20th century from a Polish perspective. The central character in the series - Teddy Labden - has resonated with the Polish media, who have claimed him as their own "James Bond".
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