Sophie and Gemma-Rose were looking over my shoulder as I removed two plastic bags and four layers of aluminium foil.

“Is it OK?” Sophie asked anxiously and when I nodded my head, a smile spread across her face. “I love our Advent wreath. I’m so glad it's survived another year.”

Why did we worry about our wreath? What could have happened to it after a year of storage? Maybe it would no longer still be in one useable piece. I might have unwrapped all the protective layers to reveal a soft, swollen, damp ring of dough. You see, our wreath is made of salt dough.

Salt dough is a wonderful medium for moulding. It’s easy to work with, holds its shape beautifully and costs hardly anything to make. But there is one downside. Salt dough absorbs water very easily from the atmosphere. It has to be sealed very carefully with several layers of varnish to make it durable, and even then it might still not survive.

The wreath we have just unwrapped is actually our second salt dough wreath. The first one only lasted a year or two. But this one is a survivor. It has held our Advent candles for many years, twelve years in all, I think.

Our original wreath actually fell to pieces the year Thomas died. I unwrapped it after retrieving it from the storage box and found it soft and damp. I remember how my heart sank as I looked at the useless ring. The last thing I felt like doing was making a batch of dough and moulding a new wreath. 

It had only been several weeks since Thomas' death. My grief was very fresh and nothing ordinary seemed very important. An Advent wreath seemed very ordinary and unimportant to me at the time, but I knew it was very extraordinary to my children. I wasn’t looking forward to Advent and Christmas at all but my children were. And I realised they needed the joy and excitement of Christmas. They needed some relief from the grief of recent weeks and months. I couldn’t deny them the happiness of Christmas.  I knew I had to make them a new wreath despite my reluctance.

The wreath was actually very easy to make. I mixed together a large quantity of salt dough and used about two thirds of it to make the base. I twisted two snakes of dough around each other and fashioned them into a circle. I then used a rolling pin to flatten the circle, although I made sure I kept the ring fat enough so that it would support the weight of four candles.

Next, I made four holes in the top using a candle as a guide. I added a star shaped edging to each hole. (In the photo, a wad of blu-tac lines each hole.) Then it was time to mould leaves and berries and flowers, which I arranged on the dough ring, using water as glue. I added some whole cloves to the centres of some of the berries and flowers. Before I knew it, the wreath was made.

I popped the wreath into a slow oven for some hours until it was thoroughly dry. Did I turn the heat up at the end to brown it slightly? I think I did.

Finally, I glazed the thoroughly dried wreath with a water based varnish – I found an old tin of wood varnish. The wreath was finished and we are still using it all these years later.

Our 12 year old wreath is looking rather forlorn. It is coated in all those years’ worth of purple and white wax that has dripped from the candles. But we don’t mind. We are very attached to our wreath. It represents many Advents and Christmases. It has sat on our kitchen table every Advent and Christmas of Sophie's and Gemma-Rose’s life.  It has become a family heirloom. I think if it were to break or become soggy and damp, we would feel a little grief at losing it.

Today I saw an exquisite fine china statue of the Holy Family while I was out Christmas shopping. It was priced at $110 so I reluctantly left it on the shop shelf. But I am thinking: what would my children prefer? The beautiful shop bought statue or our home-made decorations such as our old waxy wreath? The answer is easy to work out.

Family treasures are hardly ever expensive. They are the things that were made with love. Both Sophie and Gemma-Rose are unaware of how I was feeling when I made the Advent wreath. They don’t know how difficult it was for me to focus on the ordinary things of life that year. They don’t know I was only able to make that wreath because of love. But they do know it is very, very special.

Salt Dough Recipe
1 cup cooking salt
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons cooking oil or glycerine
3 cups plain flour
Dissolve salt in warm water, mix in oil or glycerine. Mix this liquid into flour. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until pliable and smooth. Keep in an air-tight container.
Place wreath on a tray lined with aluminium foil and dry in an oven 100 -150 degrees C until hard.

PS: Some extra tips

If the oven temperature is too high, the dough will start to rise and become puffy. Low temperature and lots of patience!

You can make a template for the wreath by drawing two circles, one inside the other, on a piece of baking paper. The distance bewteen the circles is the width of the wreath. It obviously needs to be wide enough to hold the candles. The dough ring needs to be thick enough to support the candles, but not so thick it takes days for the wreath to dry out!

I used a cookie cutter to cut the star shapes around the candle holders. I then removed a circle from each star shaped piece of dough before 'glueing them into place. 

Update: November 30 2015

I'm partway through making a new wreath. No, the old one hasn't become soggy and unuseable. It's still going strong! This new wreath is for my son Callum and his new wife Casey. My daughters insisted I make Callum and Casey a wreath just like ours. In fact, they told me I have to make all my children a salt dough wreath when they leave home. What would Christmas be like without a salt dough Advent wreath? Unthinkable!

Here's a photo of my new wreath. I took it just before I popped it in the oven.

Post a Comment

  1. I am so impressed by your beautiful, homemade advent wreath - makes it all the more special. Ours is store bought. The kids love to fight over whose turn it is to light, and whose turn it is to blow out!

  2. Hi Dana,

    Thank you! I guess we could add some greenery to the centre of the wreath too.

    We have this silly game we play over the Christmas season. When we swap the purple Advent candles for white Christmas ones, we stud them with metal Christmas pins. Then we each guess which pin will slide off the candles first as they burn. It gets very exciting when two pins both start sliding along with the melted wax. It doesn't take much to amuse us!!

    We have the same problems with lighting and blowing out the candles. They are just too many children and not enough jobs. Generally the bigger people take turns lighting, and Gemma-Rose and Sophie take turns blowing out.

    I am sure your shop bought wreath is very special too. Using the same wreath every year invests it with lots of memories.

    Thank you for visiting, Dana. I always love 'chatting' with you!

    God bless.

  3. Beautiful!! And what a lovely story.... a wreath made with love... FOR Love!! :)

  4. Susan,

    "a wreath made with love... FOR Love!! :)" I like that! You are so good at summing up things in a few words.

    I am hoping you will post a photo of your Advent wreath on your blog. I bet it's in better shape than ours! I'm also sure it is very special. Did the girls get excited when you unpacked the Advent things? Ours did.

    God bless!

  5. I am excited. We just put it together. Correction. Robyn found the wreath, I found the candles, and Robyn put it all together and is grinning her head off. :) I can't wait til we light the first candle!! :)

  6. Susan,

    I can see the smiles from here! Sometimes I am glad we are ahead in time. We get to do all the exciting things first... like light the first Advent candle! I hope you have a wonderful first Sunday of Advent!

  7. Sue
    I totally understand the specialness of a home made wreath. I also have one made by my darling husband the first year of our married life, when we had nary a bean to rub together and he twisted it out of bullwire
    the fact that you made yours fresh in grief with Thomas I imagine makes your wreath all the more poignant for you{{}}
    I confess I'm impressed a salt dough wreath has held up so well, I'm even more impressed with the skill yours shows!

  8. Erin,

    A bullwire wreath? Now I am wondering if you added decorations to the wire. I shall follow the link to find out! I guess you will always keep that wreath even if you make another. It must hold so many memories for you.

    You are right: I associate our wreath with Thomas because I remember just how I felt as I was making it. Not happy memories but it's become a happy wreath!

    I have made so many things out of salt dough but sadly most of them are gone. They all eventually became soggy. But the wreath is hanging in there! We also have a few tins of salt dough tree ornaments, including a series of angels each holding a musical instrument. I feel a story coming on about them...

    Now off to follow your link!

  9. What a wonderful story. You are very talented, the wreath is very beautiful and well-treasured with love.

    God bless.

  10. Thank you for your kind words, Victor.

    Will you be writing any Christmas stories of your own? Perhaps you have some already on your blog. I will have to look.

    God bless you.

  11. I love your Advent wreath Sue! I think it's memories of using it year after year is very moving! Have a Blessed Advent Season!

  12. Noreen,

    Yes, we get attached to things we use every year - lots of happy memories!

    Do you have a special Advent wreath?

    Thank you for the greetings. I hope you have an Advent full of grace too.

    God bless.

  13. I LOVE you advent wreath. So very special.
    We make ours fresh every year.
    So pleased you put the instructions up as well.

  14. Our family made our advent wreath too, but not out of dough. Just fake evergreen and recycled plastic parts. Yours looks absolutely beautiful and detailed! If you did decide to, including evergreen on it would add another lovely symbol of everlasting life.

  15. Leanne,

    AS you already have an Advent wreath, you could use the salt dough recipe to make tree decorations. I might post some pictures of some we made years ago.

    Your Advent wreath looks so attractive too. I love the Advent chain!

    I hope you have a very blessed Advent!

  16. Hi Tricia!

    Thank you for stopping by and saying hello. I appreciate it.

    I agree: some greenery would add more meaning to our wreath. In past years we have nestled the wreath on a bed of evergreen boughs. I'll have to go and do some experimenting!

    Did you use a wire base for your wreath, Trica? Do the candles stand in the centre or have you incorporated holders into the actual wreath? I looked on your blog but you haven't posted any pictures (unless I have missed them, which is very possible!)

    May God bless you!

  17. The first advent wreath we made with our Sunday School classes at church. The base was a plastic ice cream pail lid with green constuction paper and the candle holders were plastic 1litre pop bottle tops cut off and turned upside down and glued on. We used plasticine to secure the candles into the bottle tops and a fake evergreen ring to cirle around it.

    This year we made another one with our church group but it for its base a green paper plate and we used 4 sections of an egg carton as candle holders which remained grouped together. We also used plasticine to secure the candles and tossed an evergreen ring around them.

    Nothing glamerous, just fun for the family, and very special advent wreaths with some precious memories attached to each one.

    We don't need two of course, so one of them found a home at the grandparents'.

  18. Tricia,

    Thank you for returning and answering my question!

    Beautifully crafted Advent wreaths made by adults are all very well but kids get so much fun from making things themselves. Sometimes simple is better than glamorous.

    All my girls have their own miniature Christmas trees and they make their own decorations for them. They have so much fun drawing, cutting, pasting, threading... I could do a better job but that's not the point.

    I have a paper angel made by my daughter when she was four. She coloured the face green! And I treasure it. I bet you treasure your home-made Advent wreaths too! Yes, lots of memories attached and very personal.

    God bless!


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