This past weekend we headed into the woods across the street from our house to find all the elements for a holiday wreath, one that we would source locally, in current parlance. We found white pine, spruce, laurel and moss. I wanted to find some vines, as I’m convinced I’ve spotted wild grapevines in our local woods, but we ran out of luck. And patience, more accurately. And I confess to spending much of my foraging time sitting on a smooth granite rock listening to the shouts of my family as they spread out through the woods. At one point I found myself flat on my back staring up at a blue late Autumn sky with sea gulls flying overhead. I entered the sort of stupor the holidays always bring on — and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. So I lowered my sights and decided to settle for what we had, without the vines.
I discovered one of those universal truths in this whole process: making a wreath is difficult. My oldest child, who started hounded me to make the wreath approximately one second after we collected all the greens, abandoned me 10 minutes into the project — he was even more shocked than I was at how laborious it was — and I was left to my own devices. (I should mention, in the spirit of full disclosure, that my oldest kid is only five, but whatever. He clearly lacks stick-to-it-iveness.) The whole time I was wrestling with the wire frame that I had to make before I could even get to the fun part, I kept imagining those holiday sweatshops up in Maine, where rows of workers churn out wreaths by the thousands, the same wreaths that retail for $8 at our local hardware store. Yes, you read that right. Eight. Dollars. So why was I doing this again? I suppose because I want to start creating some traditions that involve something more than just slapping a credit card down on the counter and walking out of a store with an armful of instant Christmas. I’m not much of an idealist, but I have been idealizing the tradition of a family we know, where they invite people over the Saturday after Thanksgiving to eat Indian pudding and drink mulled cider and make their holiday greens in a bout of communal creativity. The host family puts out all the tools: wreath frames, clippers, scissors, wire, ribbons, piles and piles of greens, and a bunch of people stand around a crackling fire making wreaths. It’s wonderful, like a Martha Stewart photo shoot without all the intimidation. This year’s wreath is a stepping stone to a better day when I will host a hot-chocolate chugging crowd of friends making multiple wreaths, gazing with benevolence at all I behold, the holiday angel at my shoulder.
The wreath I made turned out to be a little rugged, with handmade looks, clearly created by a wreath novice, but the finished product gives me a sense of satisfaction and a sense of place, reminding me, very specifically, of where we live, with the greens, moss, birch twigs and laurel a direction extension of our own backyard. Even the five-year-old liked it, in the end. And that’s really all you can hope for.