The History of the Christmas Wreath
The Christmas wreath, a ubiquitous symbol of the holiday season, has a rich history steeped in tradition and symbolism.
This decorative item, often displayed on doors and windows, is more than just a festive adornment; it carries centuries of cultural and religious significance.
As we head into the festive season, and wreath orders start pilling in, we thought it would be a good idea to stop and reflect on why exactly we hang these beautiful adrornments in our homes and workspaces.
Origins and Early History
The concept of the wreath dates back to ancient civilisations. In ancient Greece and Rome, wreaths made of laurel, ivy, olive branches, or other greenery were often worn as crowns by victors in athletic competitions or warriors returning from battle. This tradition symbolised victory, strength, and achievement.
The specific use of wreaths during the winter season can be traced back to pre-Christian times in Europe. Ancient Germanic and Scandinavian people would create wreaths with evergreen branches during the winter solstice. These evergreens, which remained green throughout the year, symbolised the strength of life surviving the harsh winter months and the anticipation of the return of spring.
Christian Adoption and Symbolism
As Christianity spread through Europe, many pagan traditions were assimilated and given new Christian meanings. The Christmas wreath became one such symbol. Christians began to use evergreen wreaths as a sign of everlasting life, with the circular shape representing God, with no beginning and no end. The use of holly in wreaths added additional Christian symbolism, with the red holly berries representing the blood of Christ.
Evolution of the Christmas Wreath
Over the centuries, the Christmas wreath evolved. By the 16th century, advent wreaths appeared in Germany as a way to mark the weeks leading up to Christmas. These wreaths, typically made of evergreens, were adorned with four candles, each lit on the four Sundays of Advent. This tradition slowly spread across Europe and later to the United States.
In the 19th century, the popularity of Christmas wreaths grew, especially in England and America. They became more elaborate, incorporating more types of greenery, ribbons, and ornaments. The Victorian era saw wreaths that were highly decorative and often quite large, reflecting the era's penchant for lavish decorations.
Modern-Day Christmas Wreaths
Today, Christmas wreaths are a common sight in many parts of the world during the holiday season. They have diversified in style, ranging from traditional evergreen wreaths to more contemporary designs featuring different materials like burlap, paper, or even recycled objects. The symbolism of the wreath remains, though it is often more secular, representing the spirit of the holidays and the warmth of the season.
The wreath has also found its way into other aspects of Christmas celebrations. Wreath-making workshops have become popular holiday activities, and many people enjoy the personal touch of creating their own wreath. The wreath's circular shape has influenced other Christmas decorations and foods, such as the circular Christmas cakes in some cultures.
The Christmas wreath, with its deep roots in history and tradition, is more than just a decorative item. It is a symbol of victory, life, and celebration that has evolved over millennia. Its journey from ancient victory crowns to modern-day holiday decor reflects the adaptability and enduring nature of this beloved symbol. As we hang our wreaths this holiday season, we participate in a tradition that spans cultures and ages, reminding us of the unifying spirit of this festive time.