Jeffrey Michaud was standing in the middle of the Black Forest when he heard the wind start to blow. It felt like nighttime, and the sound of a train whistle was closing in. Wide-eyed and eager, the 10-year-old couldn't contain his surprise at what came next.
"It's snowing," he shouted, dusting a flurry of white flakes out of his hair. "This is just like Christmas."
It didn't matter that Dec. 25 was still months away, or the "snow" swirling through the simulated darkened German forest was falling from a ceiling. He couldn't care less that the train roaring down the tracks was a toy-sized replica or that it was really 1:30 in the afternoon.
Jeffrey was standing in one of the 12 rooms of Yankee Candle's flagship store, where the outside world is closed off long enough for some people to almost forget where they are.
From the fake forest, Jeffrey and his mother traveled to the adjoining Bavarian Village, a room modeled after the market square of Rodenburg. The blackened ceiling twinkles with star-like light bulbs.
A 25-foot Christmas tree towers over a courtyard of "shops" — small alcoves stuffed with ornaments, toys, and of course, candles.
The candles are impossible to escape — both in sight and smell. They're molded into jars, formed into cans and shrunk down to votives and tea lights. They're placed in scenes meant to evoke holiday fantasies and comfortable memories. While one room looks like a German woodland, another takes on the feel of a New England country store.
The candles overpower the air in a room called the Candle Emporium, where almost every scent imaginable is infused into some sort of wax shape.
They smell like home-baked cookies and cupcakes. Or cedar. Maybe the sea shore. And that rusty orange one — does it really smell like spiced pumpkin?
"It does," said Charlotte Landgren, one of the 1.5 million annual visitors to this 90,000-square-foot store about 100 miles west of Boston. "If it says it's going to smell like something on the jar, that's exactly what it smells like when you light it."
That's just what Rick Ruffolo wants to hear. As Yankee Candle's vice president of marketing and innovation, he's in charge of getting new scents into the company's line of about 200 fragrances and making sure they smell like they're supposed to.
Each year, the company considers about 1,000 new smells. Only 30 pass the sniff test.
One of this year's big hits? Sun and Sand.
"It smells just like suntan lotion," Ruffolo said. "It reminds you of a day at the beach."
The point of Yankee's scented candles is to bring those outdoor smells inside. And they market easily with names like "Autumn Leaves," "Harvest" and "Farmhouse Apple."
A new line of scents is drawing on more exotic fragrances: "Canary Island Banana," Indonesian Ginger" and "Sicilian Orange," to name a few.
And that focus on faraway places is shared with visitors at the Deerfield store.
After wandering through the Black Forest and Bavarian Village, what comes next is the facade of a castle. Standing in the King Arthur-esque courtyard, the only way over the waterfall-fed moat is to cross a faux drawbridge. Keep exploring, and you're in Santa's workshop (complete with a real-bearded Santa) and an adjoining toy section.
Then, back to the Candle Emporium.
That's where you'll run into die-hards like Sharon Brunetti.
The 54-year-old nurse from Harwinton, Conn., has been coming to this store since the 1980s — back when it opened as a small candle shop with only 13 parking spaces outside. She's not here for the fake snow that falls every four minutes, or the history laid out in the candle museum or the demonstrations on how to transform bay berries and beeswax into a candlestick.
Brunetti is here for the "Sparkling Pine." She swears it smells like a live Christmas tree. So much so, she doesn't bother buying the real thing anymore.
"We have a plastic tree and burn these candles," she said. "You don't know the difference."