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December Simmer Pot: Make Your Home Smell Like Christmas

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Looking for a simple, inexpensive, clutter-free way to add coziness and warmth to your house this holiday season? A December simmer pot is a great addition to your repertoire!

What is a Simmer Pot?

Also known as stovetop potpourri, a simmer pot consists of fruit, spices, and other fresh ingredients gently heated in a pot of water.  

It’s an easy way to fill your entire home with a heavenly scent.

A simmer pot also provides a great alternative to scented candles, room sprays, and air fresheners.  

While fragrances like “winter spruce,” “sugar cookie,” “apple cider,” and “candy cane” sound enticing, they often release carcinogens and other harmful chemicals into the air.

The good news is you can achieve those same lovely aromas with a simmer pot using natural ingredients.

Why a December Simmer Pot Should Be Part of Your Celebration

Your house will smell amazing

This benefit is the most obvious one, but it’s worth stating since our sense of smell is often the sense we pay the least attention to.

Think about it: in December, we fill our homes with decorations (sight), play holiday music (hearing), get out the cozy blankets (touch), and bake up Christmas treats and feasts (taste), but smell is often only incidental to those other activities.

And it’s worth paying attention to smell because…

Portrait of happy boy in Santa cap decorating Christmas tree

You’ll help your kids form Christmas memories

To give your kids warm, cozy recollections of Christmas, cue the simmer pot!

Research shows that the strongest memories are those linked to our olfactory sense.

This is because the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain associated with emotional processing and memory, are also activated by smells.

Scientist have even found that “odor-linked memories can actually be more positive than memories that are brought on by any other senses” (from this article).

So in addition to making your home smell amazing, a simmer pot will help to cement some sweet Christmas memories into your kids’ brains. Score!

You’ll lower stress and improve your mood

The scents we associate with positive memories can reduce stress and put us in a good mood.

A simmer pot is thus a great way to chill out and get a little merrier, and who doesn’t need that?!?

(Check out this post for other great ways to lower stress and amp up the joy this holiday season.)

Ingredients for a December Simmer Pot

For the Christmas season, good simmer pot ingredients include:

Warm spices

Allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, sliced ginger root or dried candied ginger, cardamom pods, and star anise pods are all good options.

Make it easy by buying a ready-made mulling spice mix.

While whole spices are the most fragrant, ground spices also work, so raid your spice cabinet to see what you might already have on hand.


Good options are orange slices/peels, apple slices/peels, and cranberries; other citrus fruits also smell wonderful, they just aren’t as Christmassy.


Get you house smelling like fresh Christmas trees! If you have a real tree, you’re all set with pine needles.

If you don’t have a real tree, you have the perfect reason to take a walk!

Wander your neighborhood and through parks to gather up some needles or pinecones. Maybe you can get fancy and collect needles or pinecones from two or three different types of evergreens.

(I get excited about ideas as I write and now I’m wondering how I could learn to identify the different types of pine trees and how their scents differ and if combining them would make me almost like an amateur perfumer…ANYway.)

A few weeks ago, I gathered up some pinecones for a simmer pot. I found the fresh ones with visible sap on them gave off a nice woodsy scent. (Afterwards, use this stuff to get the sap off your hands!)

Vanilla or almond extract

Whenever we bake, my kids love sniffing the extracts (not as sus as it sounds 😆).

Vanilla and almond extracts both smell heavenly and are common in baked goods, so adding a teaspoon or so to your simmer pot will make your home smell like you’ve just pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven.

Except no baking required!  

Candy canes or peppermint extract

That minty smell is quintessential Christmas.

Essential oils that smell like any of the above

Make sure you’re getting good ones — here’s a buying guide.

Try out different ingredients and combinations and see which are your favorites!

How to Make a December Simmer Pot

Choose Your Ingredients.

The best thing about simmer pot recipes is that you don’t need a recipe. Sure, there might be a few questionable combinations…like maybe peppermint and orange would be weird.

But for the most part you can go wild with these ingredients because they go so well together.

Here are some simple simmer pot blends you could try out this holiday season:

  • Pine, orange, cinnamon, and cloves
  • Cranberries, cloves, and nutmeg
  • Cinnamon, apple slices, and vanilla extract
  • Pine, cranberries, and allspice
  • Ginger, star anise, almond extract, and cinnamon sticks (for a gingerbread aroma!)

Choose Your Method.

There are a couple different possibilities to consider.

The first is the stovepot method, which uses a normal cooking pot:
-Use a small pot if you want to simmer your ingredients for 2-3 hours.
-Use a large pot if you want to keep your simmer pot going all day (or perhaps 2-3 days — just turn it off at night and back on the following morning).

The second is the slow cooker method.

If you don’t want to have to remember to check the water level – nothing like the smell of things burning to put a damper on the holiday spirit! — use this second method.

I definitely prefer the slow cooker approach because I get easily distracted and can easily envision trying to scrub scorched orange peel off the bottom of my most-used pot.

Start Simmering!

If you’re using the stovetop method:

Fill the pot about ¾ full with water. Add the ingredients, bring the water to a boil, and then turn it down to a gentle simmer.

Check the water level every half hour or so.

If you’re using the slow cooker method:

Fill the pot with the water and ingredients, turn it on low heat, and you’re done!

If you want to get those lovely aromas diffusing more quickly, you might want to turn the slow cooker on a higher heat setting for a little bit, then turn it to low once things are simmering.

Tips for Your Simmer Pot

  • Keep a container in the fridge for your orange peels so you have them ready when the simmering urge strikes.
  • Store a bunch of ingredients together as a shortcut to get a simmer pot going even faster. In my fridge container, I currently have pine needles, clementine peels, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks (combo 1 above).
  • You can simmer the same liquid/ingredients multiple times. Start from scratch when the fragrance starts losing its potency.

A December Simmer Pot as a Simple DIY Gift

Ready-to-go simmer pot ingredients assembled in a pretty package make a beautiful gift.

Take a mason jar or clear gift bag, add your ingredients, and write simple instructions on a recipe card. Add ribbon or twine for a pretty finishing touch.

Here’s a great tutorial. I love the star ornaments the blogger added to the packages as a lovely finishing touch.

Let the heady aromas of this time of year become one of your favorite ways to create a cozy December ambiance.

If you have a favorite simmer pot ingredient combo, I’d love to hear it in the comments section below!

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