The Foraged Holiday
One of the reasons I love winter so much (until March) is that the quieting blanket of snow slows everything down for us. Winter also brings the holidays, and I absolutely love holiday decorations. My family celebrates Christmas and we all can’t wait to get started “decking the halls” once the first Sunday of Advent rolls around.
But we hate having to pack all that crap back up again. There’s been more than one Valentine’s Day in the Hagel house where a needle-less tree, half strung in desperate looking garland with a pile of ornaments at its feet, has stood shameful vigil in our living room.
So, I am a big fan of ephemeral decorations. Of course, I love opening a box to rediscover old favorites that have been in the family for years. These small pieces create a family history that connects us, through shared tradition, to each other.
Yet, some of our favorite Christmases followed the births of children, not just because there was a new stocking to hang, but because I didn’t have the energy to haul the bins out of the cellar. Those years, we made decorations out of paper, then simply pulled them all down and put them in the recycling bin. The kids got the joy of crafting all the ornaments and garlands, and I got the joy of not having to rewrap every ornament and knick-knack, pack them back into the bins, and carry them back down to the spider wonderland that is our cellar.
Now with 20 acres of woodland, we get to deck the halls with nature’s bounty, and after the holidays, we return the decorations to the earth. During our first Christmas here, our son went out into the woods and brought us back the most ridiculous Christmas tree I have ever seen. Not only did it fill half the room and block the doorway to the family room, it also had razor-sharp needles that even managed to poke through my leather work gloves. We left a lot of blood on that tree, but it was our favorite.
Most Christmases, we blend the transient with the heritage. We still harvest our tree from the woods, and I really enjoy creating our other decorations from foraged materials, as well. The kids string pinecones on twine to create garlands, and I make pine boughs, wreaths and arrangements mixing in red twig dogwood and sprays of berries and seedpods. It’s so fun to take a wreath to the host of a holiday party. We needle felt ornaments from our sheep’s wool, string popcorn and cranberries, and the kids make paperchains to add to our decades of acquired ornaments filling the tree.
Once the holidays are over, the pine boughs get hung in the barn for the sheep and goats to enjoy, the pinecones are filled with suet and seeds and strung throughout the bare trees, and the tree with its festive berries and popcorn goes back to the woods as a winter treat for the wildlife.
When it comes to the centerpiece for Christmas dinner, some pine branches, candles and berries set the perfect backdrop for when we parade in the highlight of our meal: my version of the French traditional Bûche de Noël (yule log). For this favorite dessert, I use a chocolate sponge cake and a filling of homemade mint-chip ice cream instead of the customary genoise and chocolate buttercream filling. The cake is then cut and decorated to look like a log you might stumble upon in an enchanted forest, complete with gnomes or other woodland critters, ferns and mushrooms. I have yet to be ambitious enough to create my own sugar or marzipan plant life, so I use small craft supplies for a fairy village.
Our kids’ favorite “party” is gingerbread day. Friends bring a potluck of candies to festoon the lopsided houses I baked the night before. These too are short-lived since they stand (or not) for all of a day before Hansels and Gretels pick them apart for periodic sugar fixes. This year, I will attempt to make willow and dogwood wreaths and orbs. (The Youtube videos make it look so easy!) And what could be more fun and festive than trying it with friends and a bottle of wine? I’ve had friends over for a wreath-making “party” and not only did we laugh ourselves silly, we had a one-of-a-kind decoration to show for it.
Our home will never be in a design magazine spread, but I’m certain that these Christmases, no matter how temporary the trappings may be, will outlast our years here if only in our hearts and memories.