Gathering The Greens

Hemlock boughs add color and texture to Christmas wreaths. Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver

Traditions are an important part of any holiday. As children, we witnessed and then participated in our family’s traditions. Many of us passed those traditions onto our children with the hope that the next generation would also embrace them enough to keep them alive. At Christmastime, one of my favorite traditions is the gathering of greens for a wreath.

I was in my early teens when I watched my older sister making Christmas wreaths. My mother had passed away a few years earlier, and this sister was trying to fill that huge gaping hole in my life. Times were hard, and she made these wreaths to sell so that she had some extra money for Christmas.

We would bundle up and drag burlap bags way back into the woods where the patches of ground pine grew. The whole adventure was more fun than work. Once we had the greens, we would sit around the warm heating stove wiring bunches of them to a circular frame. Pine cones and red artificial berries were attached, and then a bow was added. The finished product was always beautiful, and you felt good about your accomplishments.

When I grew up, married and started a family of my own, I took the wreath making tradition with me. I used to make them for my in-laws, neighbors and friends. The whole process of gathering the greens, constructing the wreath and then sharing was one I cherished.

But, time moves on. Even though I don’t make wreaths for everyone anymore, I still traipse into the woods to gather my greens and make one wreath for myself. Now, I cherish the journey.

Sometimes, you can get so distracted that you forget what is truly important. Unfortunately, lately I have become a homebody. I can spend whole days inside puttering around and playing games on the computer. The only fresh air I get is when I go to the mailbox, which is totally not me. So I look forward to this tradition because I know in order to make my wreath, I have to head to the woods.

This year, I timed my adventure perfectly. There wasn’t ten feet of snow on the ground, so I was able to locate the ground pine easily. Over the years, I have started using a variety of greens, so my next job was to head to the hemlocks to gather some branches.

I love the little stand of hemlocks I have on my land. The ground under them is soft and slightly marshy, covered in many spots with moss. The woods are quiet and peaceful. I often find myself just standing still and listening to the silence. I know that sounds funny – listening to the silence – but it is beautiful and comforting.

Then, I realize I can’t stay in the woods all night, so I head back towards my car. The blue spruce we planted when we first bought our land are on the way. The goal was to cut one every year for our Christmas tree, but somehow, after my husband died, I couldn’t bring myself to cut them anymore. Now, the trees are too tall, so I just snip off a few boughs for the wreath.

Once back home, I walk across the road and clip a few sprigs off the white pine that stands there. My bag is full of greens, and I will be able to create my masterpiece. The different colors and textures add so much to the finished product. My journey is nearly over, and I have cherished every moment of it.

I hope you have a special Christmas tradition to look forward to this season, even if it’s only a walk in the woods. Hope to see you on the trails!

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or