Back in another century when I was a child, we made our Christmas wreaths by hand and hiked deep into the woods to gather the materials. The whole process took time, lots of time, but we didn’t mind. We had no television or computers or smart phones or social media to distract us and ready-made wreaths were few and far between and besides we couldn’t afford them.
There was no official date to begin the gathering of the greens, just an instinct akin to creatures knowing when to prepare for hibernation. Several of us siblings set out with clippers, a small saw and bags to transport our booty back home where we had already prepared the frames by bending old wire coat hangers into circles.
Wreath making began with a search in the forest for the fixings. Waxy green laurel leaves, armfuls of wispy white and scotch pines, fragrant evergreens with densely packed needles and bleeding resin from broken branches, flower like cedars bearing beautiful blue berries, thorny bushes with bright red berries and sharp, serrated leaves on silver branches and, yes, even the precious, protected, diminutive ground hugging princess pine considered an endangered species although we didn’t know it at the time and probably wouldn’t have cared. It was “our” woods after all! We knew it intimately. Familiar with every rocky outcrop and ledge where we could squeeze under and into served as perfect hiding places during an intense game of cowboys and Indians or hide and seek. We made our own rich adventures and fun when money was scarce but imagination bountiful.
Arriving back home after hours of tramping through thick under brush and stands of bear branched beech, maple and oak adorned with clinging brown, withered leaves, we got busy wiring a generous foundation of mixed pines followed by laurel leaves, berries and pine cones gathered during our foray. Last to be wired onto the wreath was a large, red homemade bow. It was beautiful. Anticipation of Christmas mounted as we stapled pine boughs and large red, green, blue and yellow glass Christmas lights around the entry door and windows of our ramshackle house that sheltered eight rambunctious children and two overworked parents.
Christmas, with all its smells and sights and sounds and sentiments transformed the ordinary and ornery into breathtaking beauty from the simple tasks and treasures we gladly gathered in a spirit of fun and adventure and we felt rich beyond measure. Today I’ll take my grandchildren out to edges of our back yard and continue the tradition of gathering the greens.
By Bonnie Pettengill Pelaccia