I just read these words, posted by a friend who is a young single mom:
“Tackling my to-do list feels overwhelming and it’s really hard not to compare yourself to the orange garland moms. My orange slices are half burnt and have been sitting in a bowl on the counter for a week.”
I understand, says the mom with a handmade wreath on the door, studded with orange slices. But there’s a story behind that wreath. It involves a team of women, a collection of laughter, years of wisdom… and a dehydrator.
The dehydrator belongs to my mother. She lends it to her sister Susan for the annual wreath making afternoon that Susan hosts in her home, always on a Sunday, always in early December. She and her twin sister Sandra forage for days, filling her veranda with spruce, white and jack pine, cedar, fir, ilex and tiny rosehips. There are baskets of pine cones, twisted vines, and inside, dried orange slices, walnuts drilled with tiny holes, lots of wire and clippers for everyone. We – my sisters, cousins and wives of cousins- are pros now. We gather what we need, make a pile on the table and settle in, using the house itself as inspiration. Some make garlands or centrepieces. I always make a wreath. It’s different every year, but always wild and requires a trim once home. It’s hard to shut the door when bits of cedar try to flop inside.
Susan has four children, four sons and daughter-in-laws, and four grandchildren with one on the way. Her house hasn’t always been serene. But today the house smells of apple cider and evergreen. White paper stars hang in the windows. Garlands stretch over her kitchen window, and a big wreath fills an empty wall. Her silver tray is filled with shortbread and the family favourite, peanut butter balls. It’s a haven she’s created for all of us – people with overwhelming to-do lists who without Susan, would have burnt orange slices in a bowl on the counter. This afternoon is her gift to us. It’s a time to be communal, to share stories from our own lives with each other, and weave them into our creations.
This year my wreath tells the story of a sister who, instead of making a wreath sat on the living room sofa, recovering from heart surgery. A pregnant cousin who felt uncomfortable, but had made those peanut butter balls anyway. Another cousin who was relishing time off between television productions, where he usually works around the clock. A cousin-in-law who took a little breather from raising an autistic child. And me, who once my wreath was made, curled up next to my sister on the sofa and fell asleep. December is exhausting.
I’m grateful for this team. My wish is that I too will create serenity for those in need someday. Because it’s the togetherness that makes the orange garlands beautiful and fills even the burnt parts with story.