Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wreathed in holiday spirit

“I should at least have put a wreath on the door,” I thought with mild remorse as I drove home one day last week.

It was two hours until I was hosting our annual holiday cookie exchange, to which all the guests bring homemade holiday cookies and we each take a few of each other’s cookies until everyone has a variegated combination of treats. (The idea is to then have cookies at the ready to serve for any holiday gatherings that take place in the upcoming weeks, but most guests have confessed that their families eat the collected cookies within a day or two of the party.)

Still the first week of December, it seemed to me to be too early to decorate the house, and it didn’t bother me at all that we didn’t yet have a tree, because of all the watering and sweeping that putting up a Christmas tree requires. “But I should have at least picked up a wreath over the weekend,” I told myself.

But when I entered the house, I stumbled into a coincidence. “Look what Mary and Pat sent!” Tim said, pointing to the kitchen table. It was a Christmas wreath, lush and large and fragrant with pine needles, a red velvet bow encircling the dark green boughs.

Merely taking it out of the box to see what the mystery package concealed, as the kids had apparently done before I arrived home from work, had already caused a shower of needles to blanket the floor, but I didn’t mind sweeping them up. Once I’d done that, we all marched to the door and put the wreath on the hook that was still there from last year.

Hanging a wreath is a perhaps inordinately important gesture to me. Our house is not visible to passersby on the street, regardless of whether they are driving or walking, and in some ways that can be a cop-out when it comes to seasonal decorating. Why bother with jack-o-lanterns, Christmas lights or even spring flowers if no one but us will see them?, I reason when I don’t feel like going to the extra trouble and expense that any of these frills would require.

But at other times, I regret the fact that even when we make the effort, no one really gets the chance to appreciate it. We don’t even use the front door ourselves; we go in and out through the garage most of the time. Putting up a wreath is, in a way, the “If a tree falls in the forest” equivalent of home décor. Why do it if no one will see it?

This same question causes minor friction in our household when it comes to cleaning. My husband Rick believes in cleaning the house only if we’re expecting guests, whereas I believe in the value of cleaning just so that the four of us can enjoy a clean house. (His attitude does not extrapolate to eating well only when we have company, though. He’s happy for me to prepare good meals no matter how few of us are present to enjoy it.)

And really, the idea that no one will see our wreath brings up a larger issue for me: just how easy it is to insulate ourselves from society. I sometimes think I’d be happier with a regular stream of people walking, driving or biking past our front door. Living in the woods amidst the trees, deer and owls is picturesque, serene, and often blissful, but sometimes I regret not having more humanity around.

Nonetheless, this was the evening of the annual cookie exchange, and by coincidence, it was also the day that a gift mail-ordered by my aunts, who live two thousand miles away and didn’t even know about the party, had arrived. The wreath would be on the door just in time to greet our guests.

None of the guests even mentioned it. A wreath on a front door in December hardly bears comment, after all. But I knew it was there. And to me, just knowing that made the annual party perfect.

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