The Sisters of the Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph have begun production of their fresh, balsam Christmas wreaths for the upcoming holiday season.

Found in the serene mountains overlooking Tehachapi, the monastery is home to Prioress Mother Mary Augustine and 41 spiritual daughters. For the past 15 years, the sisters have tenderly toiled over the handmade Christmas wreaths, which they sell across the United States. More than 1,000 customers place orders each year, of whom 90 percent or more are repeat customers.

"We are very, very blessed," Sister Mary Norbert said.

The boughs for the traditional wreaths come from northern Minnesota and are shipped to the monastery by XPO Logistics (formerly Con-Way) as a charitable contribution to the wreath fundraiser.

According to Sister Mary Norbert, XPO's contribution will save the monastery much in shipping costs alone.

The price for the fresh aromatic wreaths is $55, with almost everything being donated.

"Friends donate the nice, velvet ribbon, and we make the specialty bows," said Sister Mary Norbert.

In addition, the sisters gather the pine cones used to adorn the wreaths from the forest surrounding the monastery, gathering more than 10,000 each year.

Said Sister Mary Norbert, "Then, we also have friends who have work parties to do some of the wiring and some of the tinting because we have frosted cones as well. It's a community effort of family and friends."

According to the sister, one group of friends of the monastery holds a pine cone and pasta work party each year, which is attended by 40 or so people.

"People are so generous," the sister said.

The wreaths are not only beautiful, but they also are known as some of the longest lasting wreaths on the market.

"When the wreaths arrive, then we water them, to make sure they are even fresher," said Prioress Mother Mary Augustine. "Another sister will put the cones and bows on them, and another will put the cards on them."

Ordering the wreaths has become a family tradition, as well. Most importantly, all of the above is done by the sisters with and in prayer.

"Asking the Lord to bless everyone who receives a wreath, those who order them, and everyone who helps in the process, and also asking our guardian angels to assist in the deliveries as well," Sister Mary Norbert said. "It is truly a community effort, both within, and outside, with contributions and donations of materials, time, expertise, shipping, etc."

In addition to the balsam wreaths, the sisters are once again offering their Christmas treat gift boxes, filled with gift shop favorites such as two jars of jams or jellies, two bags of tea containing herbs from the monastery gardens, and packages of almond-anise biscotti, almond macaroons and walnut-almond granola.

A limited supply of two apothecary gift boxes will also be available for the first time this year. The All Natural Apothecary Gift Box ("Star of Bethlehem") includes a lavender beeswax lotion bar, lavender goat milk soap bar, peppermint lip balm, healing herbal salve and lavender sachet for $40 plus tax. The All Natural Apothecary Gift Box ("Nazareth") contains lavender lotion spray, lavender goat milk soap bar, peppermint lip balm, healing herbal salve and lavender sachet for $50 plus tax.

"Everything is made by the sisters," said Sister Mary Norbert. "Everything is grown here, baked here and made here."

Order wreaths by Nov. 6 for the first shipment to arrive or pick up around Thanksgiving (Nov. 28) or the first Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1. Or, order wreaths by Nov. 27 for the second shipment to arrive or pick up around mid-December. Sister mentioned that there is a little flexibility in the deadlines as well.

A downloadable order form for the Christmas gift boxes and balsam wreaths, in addition to some of the many items sold in the gift shop, can be found at norbertinesisters.org. Gifts can be delivered directly or picked up at the Bethlehem Priory, located at 17831 Water Canyon Road. For more information, call 823-1066 or email ns_acctg@cybersurfers.net.

The sisters also accept prayer requests at pray_req@cybersurfers.net.