There is no doubt that the Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday decorating, but the versatility of the holiday wreath makes it a close second.
This beloved circular greenery with its traditional red bow has really evolved into something more than a decoration. For many, it is a form of art that provides a promise of eternity. Whether you choose to stick with the traditional style or design your own, the wreath symbolizes a warm welcome to the holiday season.
Historically, the simplicity of the round shape of the wreath means love and never-ending life, making it appreciated by all cultures. While the fact that people around the world embrace the holiday wreath hasn’t changed, the art of wreath-making has.
The growing interest in wreath making has led to workshops across the Capital District, many with waiting lists. According to Joy Scism at John Boyd Thacher State Park, they are now in their seventh year of wreath-making classes and the interest continues to grow. Scism said one of the best things about living in upstate New York is that all of the materials for wreaths can be found locally. The basic wreath uses fresh balsam, pine cones, wire and ribbon, an inexpensive process that Scism said is well worth the effort.
“The entire process takes a few hours, depending on the amount of personal decoration that someone wants on their wreath. The fragrance of the balsam is wonderful and intoxicating,” said Scism.
Scism said she thinks people are drawn to the wreath because of the enduring color of evergreens amid the harshness of the long winter months.
“In the midst of winter’s chill, these greens were gathered and hung during yuletide as a symbol of continued survival, a reminder of renewal and the coming of spring, serving as a celebration of the return of the sun. In the middle of winter, when the winds are blowing and the sky is gray, it’s so nice to be greeted by a green wreath with a red bow,” said Scism.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties held its first wreath-making class this year in response to local interest. Master gardener and coordinator for the event Melanie Gessinger said they actually had a waiting list for the event. Gessinger said she thinks the interest in wreath-making is so high because of the creative outlet it provides.
Gessinger said that in addition to using traditional materials, participants used things like bittersweet and birds’ nests. While pre-made wreaths sell for as much as $50, Gessinger said the only costs are the glue, wire and wire clippers, coming in at a total of $3, making them both economically and ecologically friendly.
“Many participants said they plan to make wreathes as gifts for family members and friends this year,” said Gessinger.
Wreaths also extend beyond backyard materials, with many amateur and expert wreath designers using objects such as ornaments and even keepsakes.
The Festival of Wreaths in Old Forge is a festival dedicated entirely to the art of the wreath. Spokesperson for the event Jody Pritchard said donations of handcrafted wreaths from all over the area have been pouring into the Arts Center in anticipation of the Festival of Wreaths. Pritchard said last year’s wreaths included antique dishes attached, feathers and one unique entry with a bottle of wine, glasses and a corkscrew.
“So far this year they have received a medley of distinctive and valuable wreaths, including one with Waterford crystal ornaments attached,” said Pritchard.
Not everyone has a green thumb for wreath-making, leaving a huge market for those selling wreaths. For St. Gabriel’s Boy Scout Troop 32 in Rotterdam, selling wreaths has been their no-fail fundraiser for more than 20 years. The troop sells about 400 wreaths per season to friends, family, neighbors and teachers.
Troop volunteer Patrick Hauptli said there is a love for the holiday wreath that has seemed untouched, even in harsh economic times.
“The wreath is very popular and we get a lot of repeat customers,” said Hauptli.
In Galway, Bob’s Trees has been designing wreaths and selling them since 1963. Owner Kathy Doyle said that while the styles have changed through the years, one thing has not: the love of the fresh greenery found in holidays wreaths. Doyle said their wreaths vary in materials, from acorns to ribbons, but the smell of the balsam is something loved by all.
“People love the wreath. Most pick one up when they take home their tree; they really go hand in hand,” said Doyle.
Like Doyle, Scism agrees it’s the life and scent in the balsam that makes the holiday wreath a decoration that has stood the test of time.
“Personally, I have always loved the smells of winter and the woods, the smell of a pine, of cold fresh air, of fireplaces. Each year I look forward to putting the leftover greenery, the odds and ends not used in making a wreath, in jars and placing them throughout the house. They look beautiful and they smell great,” said Scism.