Have Faith: The Wishing Tree

Stop by and write your wish or intention on a little scrap of paper, and see what happens.


Polly Simpkins is one of those people who lifts your spirits just by having a conversation with you. And that’s extraordinary. I happened to notice her family has their annual Wishing Tree up in the front yard of her William Street home in Vineyard Haven. About six years ago, I saw the tree while I was taking a walk, and wrote my own wishes on a little piece of paper to tie to the tree. Since that wish eventually came to pass, I thought it would be wise to add another one this year, so I sent Polly an email and we visited for a little while this week, before I tied my wish(es) onto the tree.

Polly was fresh off a pilgrimage of the Camino Frances (the French Way) — I may have met with her when she was even more inspiring than usual. She explained that the Wishing Tree began years ago when her children were small, and they were living in Connecticut. She’s a lover of ceremony, and wanted to find a way to bring ceremony into the children’s lives, “to bring the ordinary to the sacred and the sacred to the ordinary,” she says.

“The Wishing Tree is that to me,” Polly told me. “It’s about taking a minute to have a way to connect and to access your spiritual life. There’s no denomination involved. It’s just about taking a minute to connect.”

Anyone from the community can stop by. There are paper ornaments, markers to write your wishes and intentions, and ribbon. You might find some younger folks stopping by too, because there are cookies and a warm drink involved. (I figured it was best to leave that for the young ones.) I wanted to know what Polly’s process was after the wishes were all set.

“The tree is out from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year’s Eve,” she explained. “My family and I gather around at dinnertime on New Year’s Eve and take all the wishes off the tree — it’s a wonderful ritual for my family — and we sit by a fire and take turns reading each one aloud, then we put them in the fire and burn them.” The collective community behind these wishes has a powerful energy and spirit, she says.

Polly graduated from an interfaith ministry program in June, and was ordained an interfaith minister at the historic Riverside Church in NYC. She says our spiritual lives are uniquely our own, and the wishes may only be a little piece of paper, but they contain so much intention.

I wanted to hear more about the Camino Frances, which, if you walk the entire way, takes around 40 days. It was a pilgrimage to remember for sure, to walk the trail that likely millions and millions of people have walked before you. The full route begins in France, and it’s described as “an ancient pilgrim path across the north of the Iberian Peninsula, the full Camino Frances begins near the gorgeous red-and-white town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and finishes in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral of Santiago is believed to be the final resting place of St. James.” The entire route is 680 kilometers long, roughly 420 miles, with great cathedrals and monasteries along the way.

Polly told me she wanted this pilgrimage to focus on gratitude. She brought 40 scallop shells with her, and they were each painted and included the name of someone she was grateful for. Each day she walked with that person in mind, and put the shell down along the trail. “There’s so much power in these little sacred objects,” she said.

Polly loves making something sacred out of something simple, she said. And a pilgrimage doesn’t have to take place thousands of miles away to be relevant. One of her classes at the seminary was about pilgrimage, Polly said, and it made her look at those “journeys” in a different light. “Going to the Wishing Tree is a pilgrimage,” she said. “It is making an effort to reach the goal … it’s not the destination, but what brings you there.” Taking a walk with your dog or along the beach can be a pilgrimage, a way to connect with the sacred, no matter what “sacred” is to you.

It now seems like a silly question, but I asked Polly if she attends a place of worship here (as if I don’t understand the meaning of “interfaith”). She explained it well. She told me she feels like the Island community is filled with people on a spiritual path, and that she enjoys going to different places of worship around the Island. She lives next door to Grace Church, so sometimes she slips inside. Or she may enjoy hearing a speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Society, or at Bodhi Path Buddhist Center. Wherever she goes, I have the feeling that Polly recognizes the meaningfulness of intention. She is an inspiration in that she takes the time to pause and glean the beauty and the love in simple moments, something each of us can do if we make the decision to stop for just a few minutes and live in that sacredness.

I recommend stopping by the Wishing Tree while it’s up, and write your intention down and leave it there. You never know.


Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha recently awarded the Marian Medal to 63 members of parishes from the Fall River Diocese at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River. Among those recipients was Sergio E. Racig, from Good Shepherd Parish here on Martha’s Vineyard. A press release from the diocese says: “First presented in 1968, the annual award recognizes diocesan parishioners for their dedicated service to the church. Recipients are nominated for the award by their pastor.” Congratulations, Sergio!


Don’t forget the Hebrew Center celebrates this weekend. On Friday, Dec. 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, it hosts “Menorahs, Music, and a Miracle,” led by Rabbi Caryn Broitman with music by Eric Johnson and Anthony Esposito. There will be a children’s Hanukkah play, latkes, and dinner catered by Chef Ting. Bring your menorahs to light. All are welcome, but RSVP is required. Call 508-693-0745. Then on Sunday, Dec. 10, from 4 to 5:30 pm, it’s “Hanukkah and All That Jazz” with music by Jeremy Berlin and Eric Johnson, candle lighting, and latkes. Hot chocolate, cider, and treats for the children will be offered. Bring your menorahs for the menorah lighting at 4:30 pm. All are welcome.