Wreaths bring season to full circle
by Kia Harlan
graphic by Emily Duong
Cheerful wreaths adorning people’s doors during the holidays bring holiday spirit; however, these simple decorations represent more than meets the eye, having evolved over time.
Many people theorize that the first wreaths originated in ancient Greece, where people would use sprigs of leaves, twigs, fruits and flowers and form them into circular headdresses. These ring-shaped crowns were a sign of identity, signifying class, occupation and celebrated their accomplishments, according to proflowers.com. Laurel wreaths or crowns of olive branches are most renowned as they were given to champions in the first Olympic Games as a sign of peace and victory. Later, they transitioned from wearing these wreaths to hanging them on their doors to again symbolize victory.
Another theory is that the wreath and candles was pre-Christian, coming from a Celtic Pagan tradition in Scandinavia and Germany. The Celts worshiped forces in nature, mainly worshiping the sun, so during the Winter Solstice, they would vigilantly pray for the Sun’s return with a living wreath at the center of these rituals. Candles were put at its center to bring light during the dark period, while the circular shape of the wreaths represented the cycle of the seasons and the circle of life, according to wiccanmoonsong.blogspot.com. Similar to the other theory, when Christians converted these Pagans, they adopted Pagan traditions, changing them to become Christian centered, in order to ease their transition and to help them better understand Christian beliefs through using things they were accustomed to. These wreaths became part of the Advent season and their symbolism changed to commemorate the life of Christ in the Christmas season.
Traditional Christmas wreaths, or Advent wreaths, have religious symbolism, in the circular form that symbolizes eternal life through Christ; this symbolism is also represented in the evergreen sprigs, according to courageouschristianfather.com. Red winter berries symbolize how Jesus Christ’s blood was shed on the Cross. The holly branches often have thorns to signify the crown of thorns put on Jesus’ head; however, the seeds, pine cones and nuts represent rebirth and new life, according to catholiceducation.org.
While still holding religious values for many, wreaths have become popular as secular holiday decorations and the traditional wreath components have expanded to include copious variations with a variety of material. People enjoy creating personalized wreaths using unique items. Sites like goodhousekeeping.com offer many ideas for inspiration for people to express their personal style such as wreaths made out of things such as hydrangeas and fake fruit and pinecones, to a rustic look with burlap and vintage ornaments.
From victorious crowns in Greece to adorning the doors and tables of many households, wreaths have lasted through the test of time, bringing new symbolism to the holidays.