Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting three individuals who have especially beautiful Christmas traditions. Each is unique, yet the three people shared the same indescribable warmth. Each is an embodiment of the Christmas spirit itself. I felt meeting each of them was a gift to my soul. I hope you will enjoy their stories.

When Thanksgiving rolls around I look forward to filling my window boxes and porch pots with evergreens. For me it is not just a Christmas decoration, the bits of green double as winter survival gear. Since this can be expensive I felt completely brilliant when it occurred to me that I should visit my local compost site to see what trimmings I might find. Much to my surprise I found a wide variety of freshly cut evergreen, red twig dogwoods, birch branches, and more. Same selection as a garden center, but FREE. I was giddy. The older gentlemen who worked the compost site told me I wasn’t the only one who came by each year with the same mission. I believe his exact words were “There are a few of you ladies.”

So a couple years ago, I made my annual trip to the compost site with my pruners and mud boots ready to get my greens. As a rule, people show up to the compost to dump off their trimmings, so I immediately noticed a man who was apparently there to collect things. We struck up a conversation and I dare say he was a right, jolly, not-so-old fellow. Delightful.

He was collecting evergreen branches to make wreathes. He needed smaller branches and I needed larger ones, so we began to load one another’s tailgates with our finds as we chatted. If I found a branch with pine cones or berries I gladly hand it over. It is apparently in my nature to ask a lot of questions and his answers revealed that these wreathes were special. His father had started a tradition many years earlier of making a large wreath for the church cemetery and smaller wreathes for a list of select individuals. Over the years he had been recruited to help his father complete the wreathes and one of his father’s dying requests was that he carry on the wreath making tradition. Hard to say no to your dying father.

These wreathes were a lot of work. I sensed they were at least a bit of a burden. Yet he carried on the tradition. Some of the wreathes were given to elderly individuals who were grateful to be remembered. Over the years the list of recipients had changed, but there was still a list of people who looked forward to this Christmas gift and so he kept at it. The time he spent working on the wreathes was often filled with memories of his dad. I asked him if his children would take over the tradition someday and he had his doubts about that. I got the impression he wouldn’t pressure his kids into it, but perhaps hoped.

The next year I returned to the same compost site and I was more hopeful to run into this wreath-making man than to retrieve my branches, but much to my disappointment I got neither experience. Apparently, in the interest of stopping the transport of nasty destructive beetles and the like it is no longer legal to remove things from a compost site. So that put an end to my frugal decorating. I can only imagine it put a damper on wreath making as well.

I only met him once. We spent an hour or so chatting, but the way he spoke of his father and their tradition stuck with me. A legacy of generosity. Everything about it was a testament to the Christmas spirit. We could all do with a good dose of that. I will miss my compost trip, but will smile each time I drive by that cemetery with the big wreath adorning it’s entry. Wreathes are symbolic in shape and material, a circle of unending life. I hope this tradition lives on as well.