Holiday Traditions: Decorating the north country

The final wreath at Hemlock Haven Farm.

BY: Ali Townsend
Renowned for the small-town customs that bring vibrancy to each community, Northern New York is no stranger to holiday traditions. There are countless annual and highly anticipated activities that make NNY the quintessential image of “Christmas Time” (albeit, the occasional 5-foot snow banks add to the atmosphere).

                Among these traditions is the coveted Christmas wreath that can be seen on almost any home during the holiday season. The wreaths have transformed over the years, from the traditional circle wreath, to hanging balls and candy cane shapes and, according to two local north country experts, just about anything you can imagine.

Simmons Farm, Copenhagen

                At Simmons Farm, Copenhagen, its history, creative passion and custom wreath options add a unique touch and emotion to this seasonal tradition.

                The family-run business has been selling trees and wreaths since 1977.  Now, in its third generation, Ted and Shari Simmons continue to supply the north country with their specialized wreaths. The pair has seen progressing popularity – selling ten wreaths their first year with one pair of pliers to participating in fundraisers and making over 700. The leap in production was exciting, but nothing short of hard work. Shari recalls working through numerous below-zero degree nights in a small shed they had built, dedicated to the task. Year after year, demands for the wreaths increased and today, the Simmons’ still find themselves making additions to accommodate the business.

                Despite the high quantity of décor being produced, the business takes pride in its attention to detail and dedication to every wreath. Each one is truly its own, adorned with distinct accessories and ribbons.

                “Making wreaths and sharing the activity with the north country has always been a great source of pride for us. It’s fun to drive around and see our wreaths hanging on houses. It’s weird, but I can pick out one of mine just driving by,” said Shari. “I can tell by the ribbon on it, as I tie every single one that leaves here.”

                Years ago, most of these wreaths were tied with red bows, decorated with pine cones, and formed into round shapes. Today, the farm creates a variety of wreaths – formed into festive or animal shapes and decorated with multi-colored bows. Thanks to Pinterest, customers can provide all sorts of creative ideas and let the Simmons work their magic. Shari stays on trend with the holidays, saying burlaps and plaids are very in. Because the Simmons are constantly working on wreath orders, customers can often see their own being created – a rare and much appreciated touch.

                Luckily for customers, Simmons Farm shares its craft and passion during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The farm opens its doors to all willing to learn – from young 4-H members to those who simply want to make wreaths like they did with their grandmother. People who have not visited the farm are encouraged to walk through the trees and experience that genuine holiday spirit. Those who have usually come back.

                “It is a great feeling to have the same people come back year after year to get one of the wreaths here,” says Shari. “Although they can get a cheaper wreath at a grocery store or box store, they simply cannot get a wreath as fresh or have the quality we make here.”

                “I may be a little prejudice to my wreaths, but I like everyone we put out the door,” she laughs.

Hemlock Haven, Sandy Creek

                In Sandy Creek, at Hemlock Haven, the tradition of making custom wreaths continues to amaze residents and adorn entryways across the north country.

                Michele and Jim Forsyth, owners of Hemlock Haven farm, play another large role in the spreading of holiday joy to families. During the Christmas season they offer a venue where north country residents can visit the 250 acre property to pick out their tree, choose from a variety of hand-made Christmas ornaments and design their very own custom wreath.

                Using fresh boughs, they create wonderfully fragrant wreaths, swags, kissing balls, candy canes and many other uniquely designed holiday creations, the Forsyth’s mix in Fraser, White Pine, Balsam, Cedar and Juniper into their handcrafted designs. Customers can choose from ribbons and add ornaments, bells, and various other items, ensuring that their holiday décor is one-of-a-kind.

                With their on-site gift shop, the Forsyth’s say they focus on making memories and providing a sense  of nostalgia to their visitors, bringing back “Memories of booted feet crunching through the fresh snow, jingling bells, frost-nipped noses and toes and the unforgettable scent of fresh Christmas trees.”