Holidays can be tough, in part because they come with a certain amount of anticipation and hope for connection and joy. So to kick off the season, I signed up for a wreath-making workshop in the greenhouse of Mount Auburn Cemetery. Mount Auburn Cemetery is a special place. It's a National Historic Landmark, America's first rural cemetery, and an expansive landscape that includes a botanical garden and more than 60,000 monuments. (Mount Auburn is where I found inspiration to both write and perform Regeneration, an account about how I found healing in an unexpected place - a cemetery - following my cancer diagnosis.)
For over twenty-five years, Maureen Simonelli, with a background in plant science and floral design, has conducted this annual wreath- making workshop. She provides a welcoming space, complete with her homemade pizzelles, burning candles, and samples of her own Victorian-inspired wreaths of dried field flowers (broom corn, tansy, and eupatorium). After gathering us together to describe the wreath- making process, Maureen finished with a poem, The Shortest Day of the Year (by Susan Cooper), which speaks to the need to drive the dark away.
The supplies were abundant, many harvested from the Cemetery's extensive plants and gardens. Milkweed pods, dried field flowers, gonfrenia (which one elderly woman smiled and said she always called it gonhorrea - scandal), German statice, pine cones, holly, cinnamon sticks, and chestnuts. A few tasteful store-bought decorations, berries, angels, and birds rounded out the supplies.
Traditionally, the evergreen wreath symbolizes eternity, an unending circle of life with no beginning or end, but for many of today's participants it is more personal. They remember who they have lost over the years and their wreath-making is about paying tribute to the person who is gone. Though I may not connect with the symbolism of religious growth and rebirth, I rejoice at my new wreath.
Whatever we do to get through the holidays, I encourage you to find a meaningful ritual that fills you with the promise of more light.