The garden club’s long, happy history with holiday greens

A recent example of the wreaths produced by Rappahannock County Garden Club volunteers.courtesy photo

How long have people been making wreaths? The history of wreaths goes back far into ancient times, when the first ones were worn on the heads of kings, emperors and military heroes. Hanging them on doors came much later, and the first recorded ones celebrated the harvest, not Christmas.

But wreaths were prevalent enough in England in 1648, and had political meaning, too. Protestant reformers saw them as symbols of revolt and confiscated them, dragging them from doors and burning them in the streets. There were laws against them in Puritan New England, where many saw them as pagan symbols. Celebrating Christmas in any way (except at a church service) was frowned upon by many until about 1870, when Christmas was declared a legal holiday in America, and the old, severe Puritan rules began to be relaxed.

Williamsburg had its share of Christmas greenery, because, in Virginia, Christmas was celebrated traditionally, and seasonal decorations of wreaths, garlands and swags were prominent.

And a hundred or so years ago, in Rappahannock County, sprigs of holly and pine were the go-to décor here and in the Shenandoah Valley, because they were free, easy to obtain and made the house smell good.

Now there are wreaths for many celebrations, including holidays, weddings, birthdays and the birth of babies. But back in the 1950s, before the growth of wreaths as door decorations throughout the year, the women of Rappahannock began a wreath-making project that has lasted to this day. This was the Rappahannock County Garden Club’s only fundraiser for scholarship money for college-bound high school seniors and for elementary students to attend nature camps in the county and state.

The Garden Club has a long, proud history of using local, organic, fresh greenery to make the fullest mixed-greens wreaths, as well as garlands, swags and centerpieces that last long beyond the season being celebrated. The first sale was in 1952, and the treasurer reported a profit of $29.10. Last year, the club gave two $2,000 college scholarships to Rappahannock high school seniors and sent three children to a week-long nature camp in Vesuvius, Va.

Wreaths and all the other products are made to order during a three-day workshop at the Washington fire hall, where club members measure, cut, wire and decorate the greens. There are churches, businesses and homes in the county that have traditionally used these wreaths for decades.

Designers start early in the summer to work on new centerpiece and swag designs each year. Supplies are purchased, colorful bows are made and stored, and Garden Club members visit homes to inspect the greenery (how much is available, is it healthy, can a car or truck get to it easily?). Places to find perfect pinecones, nandina berries and other natural enhancements are located. Boxwood, pine, spruce, cedar and arborvitae are just the start of the list for cutting, and teams go out the week before the workshop to cut supplies. The branches are then conditioned for long life before they are brought to the fire hall to be made.

It’s an old tradition, celebrating the Christmas season with wreaths and greenery. To the ancients, the evergreens were a symbol of long life and the ability to stay alive through the winter’s cold and dark days and nights. We all have central heating now, so the winter’s cold isn’t to be feared as it once was, but the wreaths have remained as a hallowed way to brighten the days of December, regardless of religion or nationality, and surely the county is better for it. As for the Garden Club, the week’s worth of hard work, companionship, and a sense of pride in using nature’s bounty and their own talents to earn scholarship funds for the children of the county is something to be treasured.

This year, orders can be made online at rappgardenclub.org, or by calling Karen Crow at 540-675-9917. The deadline to place orders is Nov. 24; quantities are limited, so early ordering is advisable.

Orders can be picked up at the fire hall from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, or 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Dec. 4 — or by prior arrangement.

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