Eight oranges were bagged and decanted into a wire fruit basket.
Gathering my supplies, I cleared space next to the dish drainer for my husband to put the dehydrator out of the way of other kitchen activities. I set before me a chef’s knife, a cutting board and a basket of oranges. My daughter stood at the opposite side of the counter watching with eager anticipation. “Can I help you dry the oranges?” She asked.
“I’m not really sure what you can do,” I answered with a downbeat.
Slowly, I sliced the oranges an even width laying them on the plastic perforated trays of the dehydrator. I leaned across to examine the settings, turned the dial to “Fruit 135”.
Within an hour the sweet citrus smell permeated the living room and kitchen, greeting children leaving their rooms to fetch a book or newcomers to the house. We dressed in carefully chosen outfits and changed our shoes to attend the Christmas parade. I gathered my camera supplies, notebook and pens, prepared to do the work I love best outside the home.
When we returned, the flesh the orange slices felt tacky to the touch. I turned it off for the evening. “I’m sure it will be fine,” my husband reassured me, “what could happen overnight? They’ll dry out?”
The next day resumed the drying activities.
When they were done, I called the eager young lady denied her opportunity to craft the previous night. I taught her to use her forefinger to tie a knot. With antique-style shears, I cut beige upholstery thread to relatively even lengths, threaded a needle, pierced through the orange windowpane pulled the string even on each side, and set it beside me for my daughter to pick up and tie.
As she finished, I went to hang them. The ends of string above the knot were too long. I called my son to cut the ends. He delighted in the opportunity to use Mother’s sharp scissors and participate in the craft. Another daughter helped me hang the newly fashioned ornaments on a small pine tree in our room. She loaded her fingers with loops and carried them off. Her elder sister, the first crafter mentioned, redistributed them around the tree, creating visual balance across its boughs.
We finished the tree and swags of greenery hung about the dining room.
With the same spool and scissors, I measured the length for a cranberry garland. The younger daughter collected not-quite-ripe kumquats. One, two, three cranberries, then a kumquat. The elder moved the group down the thread as I impaled the next.
We were calm, joyful and eager for the festivities to come. The slow moments, the quiet collaboration, the simple skills required to bring the decor to life with natural elements transfixed us. I marveled at the beauty of the oranges, the beauty of creation.
“Will we get to eat them?” The children ask, each in their own turn.
“Sometimes after Christmas,” I answered.
We do not save them. They are passing, like time itself. The oranges represent the traditions shared with us stories like “An Orange for Frankie” by Patricia Polacco, and the inclusion of oranges or mandarins in a child’s shoes for St. Nicholas day.
“How are you preparing for Christmas?”
A preacher asked his people. “If your answer is Christmas shopping or decorating, you might be missing out on the riches of the season.”
I am not so sure. It was a slow moment that brought us all together, all at peace. I knew the task; I knew who could participate in it and they each delighted in it. The oranges represent the delayed gratification so necessary to the well-ordered life. This season of life does not allow me to throw all the decorations up the Friday after Thanksgiving. Rather, we move, weekend by weekend, candle by candle of the Advent wreath, closer and closer to Christmas.
Thus it is not the task itself of decorating, but how we go about it, and whether or not we choose to enjoy it, embracing it as a good in itself, with riches beyond what we could possibly anticipate.