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Handmade Holiday: Clove & Orange Pomander

The holiday season is often a time of tradition. The sights, sounds and scents help bring light and beauty in to to warm up the shorter, cold days of the winter solstice. The pomander is a classic holiday tradition and a family-friendly craft whose warm, bright scent can last for months depending on your methods. This craft requires just a few materials, and you may already have many of them in your cabinet.

The pomander’s origins begin in the Middle Ages. The wealthy would carry ornate spheres of gold or silver filled with exotic spices and herbs. At that time, it was believed that foul-smelling odors (often a result of illness and decay) were the cause of the spread of disease. They believed if you could not smell the odor, you would be protected from illness.

The word “pomander” itself originates from the French for “apple of ambergris,” a reference to the sweet-scented secretion of the sperm whale (a common ingredient in fine fragrances). As the Victorian Era saw a return to the celebration of Christmas, gifts such as these became commonplace. This era saw the emergence of a middle class, increased international trade, and the softening of American attitudes towards the British. This led to a full embrace of celebrating the Christmas season by the once-Puritanical United States. Ingredients like citrus and spices, once only available to only the richest households, became common gifts. These charming and amazing-smelling gifts can bring a bit of old-world charm to your holiday celebration this year.

How to make a classic clove and orange pomander

Materials and tools:

  • One or more oranges or any variety of citrus fruit you have on hand. (I used clementines; their thin skin and bright color make them ideal for this project) 
  • Whole cloves
  • A toothpick or pushpin – used to poke guide holes into the fruit, which makes easier to insert the cloves, especially when working with kids
  • Washable marker – optional, but great for planning out more intricate design patterns
  • Ribbon – optional. These can add a decorative touch or even act as a guide for your design
  • Kitchen cloth or paper towel for cleanup


  • Map out your design on the fruit
  • Using your tool of choice, poke small guide holes for the cloves
  • Insert cloves into the fruit
  • You’re done! You can add ribbons to hang them around your home, or make multiples and create a beautiful centerpiece for your holiday feast!

Tip: To preserve your pomander to last into the new year, prepare a mixture of orris root (arrowroot is a decent substitute if you cannot find orris) and cinnamon. Place the mixture in a sealed container such as a resealable bag or container with lid. Next, coat the completed pomanders with the mixture and allow the mixture to absorb the moisture from the orange. Leave the pomanders in the mixture for up to one week, turning occasionally. Once done, shake off the excess powder and enjoy!

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