I just love this weekend—it’s so delightfully tangled with the remnants of Thanksgiving and the beginnings of Advent. Gratitude, tradition, anticipation and longing all have their place in these shifting days wherein pumpkins and Christmas trees meet each other in passing and late autumn dusk gives way to twinkle lights.
We celebrated Ivester Thanksgiving on the family farm yesterday, with all the traditional fixings (including pork tenderloin and fried okra and lima beans swimming in buttery broth), and it was all so much the same it was easy to pretend, if only for a moment, that nothing had really changed in the years since I’ve joined this beloved family. One glance at the children dispelled such imaginings, of course—bringing with it the reminder of less-visible changes no less profound, and the memory of dear faces who once graced that table in years past. But it was a golden day, all the better for its shadowed company. How sweet to hold both sameness and difference in one heart!
One thing that remained the same (in addition to my mother-in-law’s coconut cake on the dessert table and my brother-in-law brewing up local coffee) was the traditional after-dinner stroll over the bottomlands. Dogs and children romping in the late afternoon light; adults strolling languidly over the freshly cut stubble, a bright bird of a kite dancing against the glad blue sky—such things are thankfulness embodied to me, and more than once I caught myself blinking away tears. Tears of tenderness or tears of joy? A blend between the two is the very best kind, in my opinion.
I never embark on this annual ramble without a pair of clippers in my coat pocket, for my heart is turned towards Christmas, even in these last, sun-shot moments of Thanksgiving weekend. I know where the wild roses tumble from the hedges, fruiting into delicate sprays of garnet-colored hips come November. And I always saunter back to the cabin by way of the abandoned 1800s road lined with majestic red cedars. It’s one of my favorite places on the farm—particularly in the westering light of late November, with another cup of coffee waiting for me in the coziness of the cabin, and Advent brooding in the wings. I cut lavishly, but with great care, so as not to leave gaps in the dear velvety glooms. But I love those trees like old friends. They’ve been a part of my Christmases for seventeen years and counting.
(And I love the drive home, in a cedar-scented car, and maybe the first “official” Christmas album of the season. Last night it was “Blood Oranges in the Snow,” a loved companion for the past two years.)
This afternoon I fashioned my Advent wreath, as I always do, from a few stout branches of that fragrant cedar. I’m a little unorthodox when it comes to Advent wreaths, preferring the symmetry of ivory candles lit all at once each Sunday, in the spirit of Tasha Tudor, instead of the traditional colored system, lovely in its own right. Like Tasha, I hang my wreath from red ribbons anchored by a sturdy hook in the ceiling, and after the Christmas tree, it’s my favorite decoration of all.
I so enjoy making the wreath, particularly now that I’ve worked out something of a system. I start with a traditional Advent wreath form, like the one pictured below, fleshed out with a nice base of artificial boxwood—I’ve learned that this makes filling in the wreath with fresh greenery easy and fun! Starting at a table outside, I begin clipping sprays of cedar roughly four to five inches long and stuffing them concentrically around the wreath. (I used to wire them on, but the boxwood gives it such a ‘tooth’ it’s really unnecessary.) After I have a good layer of cedar in place, I bring the wreath inside and hang it. Then I continue clipping and stuffing until the wreath is filled out to my satisfaction—the nice thing about finishing it in place is that you can see all sides at once, and fill in along the bottom, as well.
(Source: Wreath Making Supplies)
I’m usually content to leave my Advent wreath unadorned, but this year I starred it with a ring of bright rose hips. And once the ivory tapers were in place, my preparations for Advent were complete. I’ll probably refresh the greenery a few times over the season, but the lovely thing about cedar is that it’s so forgiving—not only does it hold its shape when dried, once it’s layered with a light touch of fresh sprigs it looks fresh all the way through.
And what, you ask, am I going to do with that remaining pile of plundered greens? Well—don’t tell my goats and sheep, but that’s their Christmas present! Around the 22nd or 23rd I’ll craft it into wreaths which we’ll present to them on Christmas Eve—and there will be enough left over for evening snacks and treats throughout Christmas week. I don’t know what they see in the taste, but there’s nothing like the scent of freshly munched cedar filling the barn.
And thus, it’s begun. May your Advent be graced with mystery, my friends, and breathless with the hope of Light breaking ‘round the rims of the world.