Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

As we move into the holiday season this year the Alliance is reminded of the diversity of cultures and family traditions that occur throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Much like the natural world, our communities comprise of many different voices, experiences, and are in constant flux. The beauty of autumn and the seasonal changes remind us of the ongoing change we face daily in our lives. The passionate work of our Alliance team to improve lands and waters honors everyone who lives, works, and plays in the Chesapeake watershed.

Thanksgiving, a traditional holiday across the Chesapeake Bay watershed signifies a day of giving thanks and a time of celebrating the harvest from the preceding year. While not all people celebrate this special holiday, the seasonal weather changes align with harvest time, gift giving, and spark a celebratory time of year. Pumpkins, acorn squash, gourds, heirloom corn, and chrysanthemums abound. Winter wreaths and decorations combined with creative planters with winter hardy perennial and ornamental plants adorn homes, farms, businesses, and faith based organizations in our communities.

The Alliance celebrates these seasonal signals, and encourages us all to listen to communities throughout the watershed to meet people where they are at during the holiday season. Traditions are numerous, with food being one of the most well-known connectors of natural heritage that opens doors to new conversations. For Pennsylvania it may be shoefly pie, Maryland celebrates its famous oyster stuffing, Virginia is known for its ham, West Virginia a squash casserole, and New York has its famous apple pie. These foodie favorites don’t even tap into consideration of the foods of immigrants who contribute richly to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

But those aren’t the only ways to celebrate the Holiday season. Beyond hunting, fishing, and traditional foods often overlooked, is the bounty that nature brings us and lesser known customs connected to our natural environment. Here are three examples of other ways to celebrate the season:

1. Sharing the Wild Harvest: Wild fruit of serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), and even nonnative species like the berries of Japanese wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) are collected, eaten raw or canned, frozen or dried; and even fermented for wine. These delicious berries used for berry recipes, jams, sauces, wines, teas, or added to cakes make special gifts to share during the holiday season. The fruit and berry of native pawpaw and persimmon trees are signals for people and wildlife that forage the seasonal landscape. Imagine pawpaw ice cream and persimmon jam alongside Amish buttered noodles or Spanish empanadas. The holidays are an inviting, cross cultural experience that serve to remind each of us about the value of diversity in food, people, traditions, and the wealth of natural resources that supports the resilient watershed we call home.

Photo by Keith Rutowski/Chesapeake Bay Program

2. Native Seed and Plant Exchanges: Give the gift of the native seeds of your favorite fall, spring, or summer flowering perennial, or pot up your choice native plant and share it with a family member, neighbor, or friend. Let your creativity out by making a handmade label design with planting instructions in English, Spanish, or other native languages. You can even take it a step further to help your neighbor or loved one design a garden rich in native plants or help plant a native tree. A meaningful tie to nature is an opportunity for listening, sharing, and teaching.

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

3. Crafting with Nature: Armed with nature’s knowledge, crafting is an opportunity to educate people in our community and share the bounty of nature creatively. Organize a public small group hike in the woods to collect your favorite fall leaves, seeds, and talk plant uses. Walks, workshops, and lectures about crafting become a unique way to invite underrepresented communities to bond with nature and swap stories from wherever people originate across the globe.

Building an intentional culture of diversity and inclusion woven into how, when, what, and where we communicate about the natural environment during this holiday season becomes an invitation for each of us to reach underrepresented voices in conservation. This is a time to stretch ourselves to embrace and foster change in a different way. Wild plants, food, and crafts are only the beginning. Whether it is during a traditional holiday like Thanksgiving or during other celebrations throughout the year, the Alliance hopes to find ways to creatively reach diverse voices through our collective work.