Muchly Bedecked

Smilax smallii

This time of year, back in the day, mothers dispatched their sons to woods all over South Carolina to cut, pull, and shoot smilax out of thickets to decorate for Christmas

Smilax smallii

Native of the South

Virginia to Texas

Used at weddings, parties, and other events, formerly ubiquitous at Christmas in this part of the world


Lanceleaf greenbriar

Jackson vine

Old timey

High climber

With the loss of woodlands and the influx of folks from off, this tradition dies a little every year

I doubt the next generation will have to do like mine

Good times some thirty years ago heading into the woods with friends armed with clippers, shotguns, gloves, a couple packs of cigs, and may be a six pack of Lite Beer from Miller

Don’t judge

The 1980s were another country

My pal Thomas Boulware and I call each other around the 22nd or 23rd of December and compare notes as to where we have harvested smilax for Christmas around Charleston County

He and I tell each other from where we pull

In situ

Smilax in situ

We tell no one else

We don’t reveal our sources

All so we can muchly smilax bedeck our houses

(That’s a reference to a wedding write up from a small town paper in Georgia where society pages author described the bridal party as being muchly orchid bedecked – thanks SNMF, VDM, LNM, CEMIII for that one)

Ages ago, my mother asked a Beaufort lady where she obtained her smilax while they were decorating the John Mark Verdier House for a party for the Historic Beaufort Foundation

Her reply, “Oh, dahlin, I don’t tell anyone from whence cometh my smilax”

That green, delicate, graceful vine covers mantels, transoms, doors, mirrors

Well, it used to do so

Garland is everywhere now

Growing up in these parts, garland did not exist

The matrons of my home town headed into their secret wooded spots and cut down smilax to go over their front doors, over mirrors, on mantels, over portraits

Or they made their husbands and sons do it for them

I had a great aunt and uncle who trained smilax to grown on their side piazza in the small town of Ridgeway, South Carolina

I should have asked Aunt Laura how she did it

As we aged, my mother would send us out to find smilax all over Beaufort

When I came home from boarding school and college, it was my task to ride around Beaufort to spot smilax and bring it home

Often, I would find a huge stash and deliver extra to good friends, saving my pals the task of going into the woods

One Christmas, my father and I were riding somewhere when we spotted a lady we knew directing her son across a ditch to go ahead and pull a mess of smilax growing up a utility pole

We honked

The lady waived

Her son gave his middle finger

Dad and I howled laughing

Shooting smilax and mistletoe out of trees is an old Southern tradition

One must wait until the right time to hang it; otherwise one will have to replace it

It dries out really fast

The 22nd or 23rd is really the best time to wander into the woods and gather the sacred vine

If the smilax has berries on it, well, then, I mean

My pal Anna Pinckney and I always joke about shooting greenery out the woods

We also joke about how it wouldn’t be Christmas without trespassing onto someone’s land just to decorate a mantel

Because it’s all trespassing

One friend, who shall remain nameless, had to run to his car a couple years ago with green leaves trailing behind him way out on Johns Island as a property owner happened upon him pulling the tendrils of green out his trees

“Get the hell off my property! ” yelled the man “Imma shoot you!”

Probably would have, too

That’s part of the fun

The chase

The risk

I have an absolutely perfect spot to pull smilax

I will never tell where it is

I will decamp to that sacred grove whence grows this vine

I will cut a ton of it

I will leave a ton of it

I will bring it home and drape my front lights, every mirror in the house, and may be even the chandelier in the dining room

Those of you who don’t know the pleasures of a smilax hunt or its graceful beauty, well, bless your hearts

Those of you who do, happy hunting

I hope your hearths and homes are muchly bedecked this Christmas

Love and joy unto each and every one of you

Merry Christmas


2 thoughts on “Muchly Bedecked

  1. This was an interesting post! After many years of coaxing, I have smilax growing over my garage, but I did not know it was used for Christmas decorating in the south. Maybe North Carolina was not south enough?
    The only foraging I had to do as a child, was to go in the woods with my good friend and pick poke salad for her mother’s housekeeper, (maids, back then) named Hazel. Hazel never liked me for some reason. Oh well.

    Liked by 1 person

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