Synesthesia- a neurologically-based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.
The smell of the air changes when the trees go bare and the grass turns tan. It has a synesthesiac effect on me. It's cold and energetic, and it sets off this chain reaction of memories that I would never think of in the summer when the air is thick. It flashes red and blue. It has a prickly smell. Christmases and winters from the past pop into my head. The earliest ones are the happiest. The cul-de-sac I used to live in would be completely covered in snow, and I would wake up as early as possible so that I could see the pureness of it before all of the footprints smashed in their steep depressions. I covered up and put my boots on and stepped one foot into the street and listened to the crunch of wetness and backed up so that I could see my single mark in the whiteness. The older the memory, the purer it is. I distinctly remember doing that. Nothing else was there. Only the snow and I and the houses.
Christmas has lost so much of it's wonder. I can't actually think about it without thinking of the marketing ploy that it so obviously is. That's so depressing. The word Christmas is flashes of money, cash registers, the sound of a completed transaction. Three foot long receipts and rolled up lights. I cling on to Christmas because it's the only day of the year that never changes. It's a ritual of innocence. Every year a little of it is chipped away by some new experience.
The smell of cigarette smoke reminds me of Christmas morning at my grandparents' house. It flashes white and gold. A Marlboro carton. Their house is musty and warm and everything seems to be coated with dog slobber. Cigarette smoke never held a negative connotation to me because I've been around it my whole life. It's actually calming to me. The oldest smells are still the purest.
The smell of church incense reminds me of Hell. Or at least the descriptions of it. In the seventh grade, when I was twelve years old, I distinctly remember a day at my Catholic school. We went to an early morning mass, and the homily was on the pains of Hell. When we got back to the classroom, our religion teacher decided to make a lesson out of the sermon. He smiled and in his usual energetic voice said "Hell is a scary place to be! The writer Dante once wrote about the several layers of hell. The physical torment of it is unimaginable to a human being! In one layer, people are lined up along a rotating platform. Every few feet lies a demon that cuts off tiny parts of your body until you're nothing, and then you are regenerated so that the process can go on for eternity! Another layer of Hell forces the sinner to wear a golden cloak, unbearably heavy, while they try futilely to push a rock to the top of a mountain. Repent for your sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation so that you can spend a lifetime in paradise rather than eternal damnation."
The class was petrified. Most twelve year olds let lessons such as these imprint deep into their psyche, just like they let early Christmas mornings creep into their consciousness. That lesson has never left me. Even when I grow further away from religion as a whole, there's something deep, deep down in me that reaches back to the church. It isn't love. It isn't hate. It's cowardice. Fearful, pathetic cowardice that was instilled in me from the earliest Religion class. The only reason I would resort back to the Catholic Church is because of Pascal's wager, that believing in God is safer than not believing in him, because if he does exist, I can get to heaven. How pathetic. This obsessions for an eternal paradise also breeds an egocentricity. That's what the Church is based on. I am special. God created me in his image. If I'm a good boy here on earth, I can go on vacation for eternity. Christmas mornings and Mass. I stopped believing in Santa Claus because I realized it was a ridiculous tradition. Would I be so quick to disregard old Kris Kringle if I was threatened with being shot? Take me back to before religion. When the whiteness of the cul-de-sac was all that was the only thing on my mind. The purest memories I have have nothing to do with being "pure."