It would be undoubtedly easy to order our town’s holiday decorations from a big box store or, gasp, the Internet. Surely there’s an iPhone app somewhere where one can pick a look, pay through the nose for rush installation, and find oneself walking through a ready-made winter wonderland. Santa in an Uber, and all that.
But isn’t it reassuring to know that New Canaan will never do it that way?
In early December, for the past five decades, the New Canaan Beautification League and the New Canaan Garden Club have partnered to hold our town’s Holiday Greens Workshop at the Nature Center. Several dozen volunteers from both clubs make many of our town’s holiday decorations from scratch, upcycling pruned branches and clippings into the extra-large bespoke wreaths you’ll spot on our town’s municipal buildings throughout December. Trees and shrubs like white pine, holly, ilex, juniper, and spruce can benefit from pruning at this time of year, so generous members, private tree services, and our town’s Parks department gather and donate a bounty that befits New Canaan’s holiday spirit.
From here, with the power of an industrial staple gun, a case of floral wire, and the creative intuition of a few dozen gifted volunteers, the town’s décor comes to three-dimensional life… for free.
This upcycling is hardly limited to wreaths. Clever re-use turns bundles of greens and last summer’s tomato cages into the woodland gnomes you’ll see at the Nature Center, Waveny Care Center, The Inn, and Town Hall. A truckload of trimmings becomes the lush, festive planters outside the new Town Hall entrance. One team crafts gorgeous tray favors to adorn Meals on Wheels deliveries, while another turns greens into seasonal outdoor planters for the residents of Waveny Care Center to enjoy. All of this allows a second act for the evergreens that shade us all year long. It provides major Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree vibes, but in this case, the humans give, too.
In terms of humans, the deepest gratitude is due to the folks of the New Canaan Parks Department: John Howe, Todd Deklyn, and their entire team, who painstakingly install each completed piece: six giant wreaths, 40 smaller ones, garlands, eight gnomes, lights, and trees. Bill Flynn from the New Canaan Nature Center and his excellent staff lend the greenhouse space for everyone to work together. Another instrumental partner this year has been Jenn Cipriano of South Salem’s Copia Home & Garden, who carries stunningly fresh small wreaths that were adorned with bows.
New Canaan’s festive look appears so seamlessly, it’s as if it floats in on gossamer wings. But, as with most volunteer-run organizations and systems in town, a look beneath those wings reveals dozens of highly motivated, capable, Type A women (and, lately, men!) giving their specific gifts to the common good. One person is a design genius, while another speaks spreadsheets. Together, they create something more than decoration; it’s a tradition, a sense of belonging, and a novel way to share our resources. So sure, we could buy our decorations at a store, but would we get to reward ourselves with Lakeside Diner Donuts if we did that?
Next time you see one of the thousands of volunteers who make New Canaan such a singularly special place, give them a high five. Just make sure they’re not holding an electric staple gun first.
Special thanks are due to The New Canaan Garden Club for starting the Greens workshop way back when, the New Canaan Beautification League, The Exchange Club of New Canaan, Carol Seldin for a cubic football field’s worth of beautiful materials to work with, Faith Kerchoff, Official Queen of the Gnomes, Kathy Lapolla, Ty Tan and Yvonne Hunkeler for their stunning container design work, and Tracy Merrill, Kathleen and Peter Murphy, and Andrew Ault, for making it all possible.