Can it be holiday time already? I hope you enjoy this story about my family's annual tradition. Happy Thanksgiving!
"Make sure that the wreath is
centered," I instructed my husband as we finished the last of our
Christmas decorating. Looking around the house, I was proud of our day's work:
stockings hung by the fireplace, colorful candles sat atop our mantel, and
bright lights glittered on the tree. But nothing seemed to say
"Christmas" to me like our wreath. I quickly grabbed a tape measure
to assure its perfect placement on our front door.
The scent of freshly cut pine filled the air as
I lovingly ran my hands through the green needles. I imagined my extended
family – aunts, uncles, and cousins – hanging similar wreaths on their own
front doors. Although hundreds of miles apart, we were connected – bound
together by our annual Thanksgiving wreath-making tradition, the "gathering
of the greens" on our family farm in western Pennsylvania.
More than 40 relatives assembled again this
year, making their annual late-November pilgrimage to our homestead, a dairy
farm first settled by my ancestors some 200 years ago. My uncle, a retired
farmer who still lives in the old white farmhouse, looks forward to our descent
upon his land.
We arrived bearing pies and casseroles, weary
from our travels, but comforted by the warm embrace of family. After a feast of
turkey and stuffing, we pulled on warm coats and headed outside.
"Hurry, Daddy! Everyone is getting ready to
leave for the woods!" shouted our two young girls as they bolted through
the muddy yard, not wanting to be left behind.
Piled onto an old wooden wagon, hitched to my
uncle's green John Deere tractor, we made quite a sight – a load of chatty
Scottish-Irish relatives, ranging in age from 3 to 70-something.
Stones flew up along the uneven gravel road as
we bumped along the rural countryside for about a mile before turning into the
woods. A canopy of pine trees welcomed us as we made our way across a muddy
trail, ducking to avoid wayward branches.
"This is it," my uncle announced,
turning off the engine. Jumping down from the wagon, we scrambled to collect
nature's bounty – fragrant evergreens that beckoned to be cut and collected for
Christmas wreaths. The youngest children, quickly disinterested in the task at
hand, found a stream that seemed just right for splashing and skipping
"They can go right in," my uncle
reassured me. "When we were kids, we used to play in that creek all the
time." Keeping one eye on the children, we searched for pine and spruce
branches, cutting only the most wreath-worthy. I walked along and picked up a
few sprigs, but mostly I looked around in wonder at the scene before me.
I was walking on the grounds of my ancestors. My
great-aunts picnicked under the shade of these very trees. I imagined my mom
and her sisters, splashing in the stream where my own girls now played. This
place, with its babbling creek and towering trees, seemed almost sacred. I
tried to take it all in – the giggles of the girls and the crisp, strangely
invigorating air – but all too soon the setting sun signaled that it was time
to hop aboard the wagon and head back home.
An old barn shed, our wreathmaking headquarters,
soon became a hubbub of activity. An assembly line formed as we carefully wove
evergreens through metal wreath forms. Like busy elves, we hummed along in our
workshop, swapping family gossip as our Christmas masterpieces took shape.
The bow committee, headed by those with artistic
flair, added ribbons, bells, and crimson berries to our festive creations. One
by one, completed wreaths hung on the wall for inspection. Which one would we
choose to take home this year? What wreath would we take to the cemetery in
memory of my dad, a man who never missed a farm holiday?
Nightfall signaled a bittersweet end to a day
steeped in tradition. With wreaths packed into minivans and SUVs, we said our
goodbyes, and then headed our separate ways. Although we live far apart – from
Ohio to New York to the mountains of West Virginia – we would carry a piece of
family with us as we went home and prepared for Christmas.
Back home in Ohio, I have hung my wreath on the
front door. So much more than a mere Christmas decoration, it is a constant
reminder of family. Like the intertwining pine branches, we are connected –
forever woven together by history and tradition.