Because Thanksgiving is late this year, only a few days before December 1, the day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of Holiday Baking for many. I recently wrote an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for their Cookie Contest Winners section (December 4) so I'm really in the mood to bake. This is a good time to replace your spices. Spices should be replaced about every six months but I don't do it that often.
At the holidays I think cinnamon and nutmeg are used the most. A few years ago I got a nutmeg grater and started grating nutmeg as I needed it. It is one of the spices that actually provides more flavor when fresh, so grate it sparingly. A little from a jar goes a long way but when freshly grated all of its essential oils are released and it lifts your recipe to something unique. Nutmeg is a dried pit from a fruit and keeps a long time.
When you buy ground cinnamon look for cinnamon from Viet Nam. It has the strong spicy sweet flavor everyone recognizes. Cinnamon enhances the flavors of baked goods and can be used with abandon.
Although not a spice, I use vanilla in almost everything. I think it deepens chocolate and makes other flavors sparkle. Always use pure vanilla extract. I like vanilla that comes from Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans.