A Dover Couple Turned a Simple Celebration Into a Holiday Tradition

Matt and Marilyn Spong’s after-Thanksgiving wreath-making party has become a beloved tradition for family and friends.

Marilyn and Matt Spong host an annual wreath-making party for friends and family on their farm outside Dover./Photo courtesy of Matt and Marilyn Spong

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Inside Matt and Marilyn Spong’s rustic barn, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, guests mill about in the late-afternoon glow.  Lights strung from the rafters twinkle overhead. A makeshift bar stands on one side of the double doors that open to a field and wetland. On the other side is a buffet of finger foods and snacks. Old friends greet one another, drinks in hand. The decorators head for the tables laden with craft supplies and greenery, while the socializers remain at the bar.

The writer’s creation./Photo courtesy of Lora Englehart

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Guest Dave Buck sums up the gathering in one word: “comradery.” Many guests have been friends since high school, some longer. The festivity is much like a class or family reunion—friends reconnecting after a year. All share a love of the beauty and tranquility of the Spongs’ 161- plus-acre corn and soybean farm south of Dover, which has been in Marilyn’s family for more than 150 years. Throughout the year, Matt, a landscape architect, and Marilyn, the office manager for his firm, collect natural materials from the property expressly for “wreath making.”

It all started simply enough. In 2005, Marilyn invited her family over to decorate Christmas wreaths. The next year, she also invited a few crafty friends who share her love of the outdoors. Over the years, the number of attendees has continued to grow. This year, Marilyn attracted a happy gathering of 40, and says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “This is my one holiday entertaining event of the year,” she says. On the invitation, guests are told to “dress warmly,” since the barn isn’t heated. The open bar helps a bit, too.

Bob Young, Matt’s childhood friend, says he looks forward to the annual event. “I always [use] decorations that seem lonely, that no one else is using,” he says. “Whatever I end up with on my wreath—Mardi Gras beads, oyster shells, crab carcasses, mini booze bottles or shotgun shells, I always top it off with a turkey feather.”

Wreath-making “regulars” love to remember funny stories from years past. There was the year someone roasted a pig, which took way longer to cook than anyone imagined. One decorator, who had trouble seeing in the dark barn, went home with the wrong wreath at the end of the evening—two years in a row.

For all the guests, the party is an opportunity to return to the country for a day and reconnect with nature and each other.

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“I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be invited to this party year after year,” says guest Sue Young, “but I feel even more fortunate to have Matt and Marilyn as friends. They are like family to us.”

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