Our fingers flew over the green styrofoam circle. She stood over the table, while I sat, snipping more artificial greenery. She plunged one cluster after another into the foam. As we worked, she talked.
“How many of these have you made? Did you make the first one with Grandma? We won’t have enough picks. Do you like this placement? How do know where the candles go?”
On and on she talked and we filled the blank circle with color.
Before she was that girl’s grandmother, she taught me her Advent Wreath secrets. In a church fellowship hall filled with 45 year old women in velour sweat suits talking about their teenagers, I sat. I listened. I was newly married and I thought those ladies were on the other side of young, if you know what I mean.
My mother-in-law, future Grandma, showed a gaggle of chatty ladies how to secure the greens in the prepared wreath. She had made giant, sparkling bows. She had brought sprigs of berries and sprays of glittering silvered woodland stuff. We dutifully obeyed her. At each candle, we added bursts of floral color, and we reached across tables to get the colors and additions we wanted.
Try to fight the flood of nostalgia when unpacking the Christmas decorations every year. I made our Advent wreath when it was just two of us, in a tiny apartment of hand-me-down furniture. It’s my favorite Christmas thing. Eighteen years, three children and the passing of a dear Grandmother later, I delight in my wreath.
It was one of the first things she taught me to make. It’s not some tchotchke ornament, or some decadent Santa inspired holiday cheer. It’s a circle of lights and color and generations. I want to resist the saccharine Disney cliche, but I can’t.
We light the candles of peace, hope, joy and life. The lights flicker awake on Sunday nights in December, pinpricks reflect in the eyes of her grandchildren. They insist, still, as teenagers, that we perform this quiet ritual.
I sew on Grandma’s machine. I refer to her books. I purchase new Advent candles every year. And we continue to wait, around a circle of fake greens and plastic berries, for the coming.