It may be hanging on your door or wall right now. A beautifully adorned circular ring of leaves, flowers, twigs, and possibly even some fruits. The wreath is almost as familiar to Christmas as the Christmas tree and mistletoe. But it also has the most unique history of all the botanic ornaments.
Wreaths are most commonly hung during the Advent season, those days leading up to Christmas. These wreaths are first hung on Advent Sunday, the first Sunday of the Advent season, and usually the first Sunday in December. This hanging is usually accompanied through a hanging of the greens ceremony
The circular ring, much like the ouroboros, is a symbol of eternal renewal. This makes it perfect for the Christmas season, where we celebrate the birth of our Savior, who eternal renews the world with love and forgiveness.
Most wreaths are made of evergreen, as evergreen symbolizes strength and immortality. This is due to the evergreen being able to withstand the harshest of winters, something we thankfully do not have to worry about in sunny Southwest Florida.
There is also the laurel wreath, made out of bay laurel, which is commonly associated with royalty and imperialism. These laurel wreaths were often worn by Roman Emperors as a chaplet.
Wreaths actually date back even before the Roman Empire, with both the Ancient Greeks and Etruscans creating wreaths for jewelry, and often adorned with gold or other precious metals. The Etruscans, and later the Romns, referred to these wreaths as corona sutilis (“stitched crown”). The actual word “wreath” did not originate until centuries later, coming from an Old English word for “band”.
In the Greco-Roman world, wreaths were symbols of your occupation, status, and successes, with the laurel wreath being most commonly used to express that sentiment.
These laurel wreaths originate from the Greek deity Apollo, son of Zeus who held divine authority over light, music, poetry, and prophecy. The myth goes that Apollo fell in love with Daphne, a naiad or freshwater nymph. But despite Apollo’s persistence, Daphne would not reciprocate. Eventually, the naiad asked for help from a river deity, who transformed Daphne into a laurel tree. From that point on, Apollo wore the laurel wreath on his head to mourn the loss of his love (or more accurately the failures of his flirtations).
The wreaths also have an association with Dionysus, the Greek deity associated with wine and parties. Two different Dionysian festivals includes a ritual procession of wreaths carried by singing children.
The modern Christmas wreath originates, like most Christmas traditions, in pre-Christian Europe. Originally harvest wreaths, they were associated with animism, often hung throughout the year woven with red and white wool. These harvest wreaths were considered sacred amulets, with offerings usually made to an associated solar deity to prevent crop failure and plague. These amulets were on everyone’s houses too, not just farmers. After all, don’t we all want to eat?
Poland may have the most entertaining wreath ceremonies, however. The Harvest Festival in Poland, Dozynki, includes wreaths of multiple shapes and sizes known as wieniec, made of grains, fruits, and nuts. These wreaths are then brought to church and blessed by a priest, before it is returned home carried by a young woman. However, these traditions also precede Christian Europe.
The wreath also has a somber meaning as well, as they are often lain at graves and memorial sites in a wreath laying ceremony. A prominent wreath laying ceremony occurs at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the President himself lays the wreath in honor of the countless American heroes who gave their lives for this country. Other heads of state have similar ceremonies for their fallen heroes.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR WREATH
- If your wreath is in an outside, cold climate, no watering will be necessary. However, your wreath will need to be watered if indoors.
- To water your wreath, lay it in a couple of inches of water for a few hours, so the cut stems could get a good drink. Then regularly spritz with water as it’s being displayed.
- When you first get a wreath, needle loss and needle shifting is normal. We advise holding and shaking out any excess needles when you first receive it.
- Avoid heat and direct sunlight with your wreath.