Every year Christmas manages to arrive more quickly… and increasingly, I find I’m “caught out,” and more than a little unprepared.
This year, the Steele Line Ladies are once again gathering to create wreaths and Christmas balls at my neighbour Amber Walpole & Chuck Lalonde’s farm. It’s our annual occasion to swap stories, exchange decorating ideas, and, well, have fun.
It’s the best way I know of banishing the commercialization of Christmas.
And, because we use natural decorations, the occasion starts off with an energizing hike.
Amber’s woods include a section of cedar trees. My land has the winter berry bush that boasts brilliant scarlet berries. And so it goes, “on down the Line,” such that we women all share what nature offers, on our slightly different properties.
It’s not just “wild plants” that we collect for decorations.
The vegetable, perennial and annual plants also come into play.
Consider the red-hot chili and banana peppers for instance. Last summer’s peppers produced a vast number of the spicy tasting fruit and this year I hope to make ristras, wreaths of chili peppers that are common in the southwestern United States.
Now, even though we ladies have been making wreaths for years now, there’s still more I must learn… about storing the raw materials for my decorations, for instance. Sigh. The mice have gotten into my chili peppers, apparently finding them delectable and, evidently, not too spicy-hot. The result is that I’m not going to be able to make as many ristras as I’d thought. Moreover, I will have to find a different storage area for next year..
Other plants that make excellent decorations include:
* garlic chives: the “starburst” effect of the dried flowers are a pleasing contrast in colour and shape to evergreen boughs
* seedpods of lilac, iris, poppies, peonies, daisies
* berries of juniper (blue), rose hips (scarlet), mountain ash or rowan (vermilion)
* vines of wild grape, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle to weave into wreath bases or balls
* boughs of evergreen, including any or all of pine, cedar, balsam, spruce and hemlock.
Once we have collected our natural decorations, we are ready to start.
But, how do you make a wreath?
First, figure out the size of wreath you need by determining where you are going to put it, measure the door (or location) and weave your sturdy vine base to fit.
Taking several metres of vine, such as supple Virginia creeper, weave a sturdy circle, tucking the ends of lengths of vine into that circle. Start another length of vine by tucking it in, too, and continuing to loop and weave the length in and around the circle until the wreath is dense enough and sturdy enough to support the evergreens and other decorations that you’ll be tucking into it. Make the wreath size as big or small as required, keeping in mind that a large diameter can make not only an immense but also heavy wreath, once it is decorated.
Once the vine base is completed, you simply tuck manageable pieces of evergreen and other decorations into it. This means some preparation: ensure that you first trim down any large boughs that you have collected so they can be woven into the wreath base.
Experiment with different textures and colours of green that the varied evergreens (pine, spruce, cedar etc) give you.
Now’s the time to decorate the wreath with the colourful seedpods, chili peppers and berries that you have collected on your hike outdoors, in the Pontiac countryside.
Sometimes we enhance the natural decorations with spray paints; other times we simply use the colours of nature. It’s your choice. Always, however, all of the Steele Line Ladies seem to favour decorating their wreaths with bows.
But remember that your wreath is yours to create: some creators enjoy leaving part of the woven base exposed to view, enhanced by a bright red, gold, silver or other colour of ribbon. Others prefer to “hide” the vine base entirely, so that it becomes a ring of green.
What’s important is to have fun, share stories, share the walk and gathering experience, and in so doing, create a natural, personal Christmas.
Yikes… it’s only a few days ‘til the decorating party… I’d better get outside and see what decorations I’ll have to share..
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon who heartily enjoys the spirit of Christmas. Contact her at email@example.com