In spite of the freezing cold, which the wood stove fire could not entirely abate, I enjoyed so much making wreaths and centerpieces with my gardener friends Linda and Edwin. For a few hours in their cabin in the woods we had a Santa-like workshop going on to fit the season.
First, Edwin collects a varied and stunning assortment of pine branches and winter shrubbery: juniper, blue spruce, Andromeda, Balsam and Noble fir, Jeffrey pine, holly, curly willow. I could not have imagined the many shades of green at play in the New England landscape: from dark blue and olive to lime. Or the many dry twigs that can be collected in a Vermont garden: red-brown sticks, white bark, blue-gray buds. Combined in a centerpiece or wreath, these various branches produce the most striking decorations.
Edwin sorts the branches and berries into buckets. Oasis foam soaks in water while in another corner the candles and holiday plates, baskets and cups, bought for fifty cents at the town’s Hospice thrift-shop, are ready for selecting.
We take our places around a big, flat work surface propped on trestles. Makeshift lamps and a string of colored lights brighten the space and provide a festive note. We gather pieces of this and that from the buckets, cut them in different sizes with the clippers Edwin makes sure we have plenty of, and carefully set them on the foam until it’s all covered. We step back to determine if there’s an appropriate variety of colors and shapes and that it’s all aesthetically pleasing. Then we declare our pieces finished while Vivaldi plays in the background and we sip cups of hot tea.
It’s a multicultural miracle that this Puerto Rican from San Juan can spend an afternoon learning with her American and Dutch friends to make these beautiful decorations. A holiday task becomes a time for sharing, creating and reveling in these gifts we will give to friends, clients and even strangers on the street. It’s a tribute to our immigrant stories and to the spirit of the Season that we come together in friendship and love to prepare with our own hands these simple gifts to give away.