Tradition of the Christmas Wreath
So many times we have our traditions especially around the holidays and we never think of why do them. Christmas is coming soon and we begin to unpack our traditional decorations. They are memorable. They are fragrant. They are beautiful. But why do we use them? What did they signify in days gone by? The Christmas wreath is one of these.
We hang them on our front doors. They rest above the fireplace. They find their way up a light pole. We even find ways to hang them on the hood of our car. The wreath is one of the most common Christmas decorations next to the actual Christmas tree.
I get to pick our wreath out each year. I prefer the real ones. You know, the ones that are soft to the touch and whose fragrance fills your head of thoughts of deep pine forests. I get a rather large one to put on the front door with a red bow on it. Every now and then we place fake holly berries in it to brighten it up. I’ve even strung lights around them so they can be enjoyed at night.
The wreath is beautiful, but where on earth did the idea of evergreens twisted into a circle come from? Wasn’t the tree enough? Why do we enjoy them so much?
The history of the wreath actually goes back a few thousand years. Even before the Roman Empire, but it was during this great period that we begin to take notice of them. If you were transported back in time, don’t expect to see the same kind of wreaths we have today. Like everything else, time changes it and it evolves to something that we know today.
In recognizing a victor of a war, a game, or a political challenge it became common to place a wreath on the head. It was relatively small compared to our current Christmas wreaths, but they were to sit gently on the head. They could be made of gold or silver or even flowers and leaves. They gave honor to those who wore them.
Many cultures adopted this wreath and incorporated native pieces to them. It became a symbol of completeness. After all, it was a circle that never ended. Over time, it even came to represent eternity. So, it really was not too surprising when celebrating Christmas, the wreath was incorporated.
The wreath was a common symbol. It was evident in many aspects of life: religious, governmental, romantic. It was almost a universal symbol. What it was made out of might be different, but the symbolism was the same.
When the Christian holiday was developing, it is not surprising that they people of each culture would look at the wreaths in their lives. Eventually, the “standard” decoration became a wreath made out of some kind of evergreen. Why evergreen?
Look around during the winter. The might oak stands in the nude. The birch tree has empty arms. The elm looks so sad without its cloak of green. But, wait! I do see green and so much of it. There are the evergreens. There are so many but they are always green. They are the ones who hold the winter snow in their boughs and give us such beautiful subjects to picture. There fragrances remind us of fires, hot chocolate, and turkey. They don’t worry about the change in season. They are ever green.
To a Christian, the Christmas season was a time of rejoicing at the birth of their Savior and to proclaim His eternal promises. The evergreen would be the perfect component to create the holiday wreath. It did not worry about the winter and faced the summer sun with boldness. By shaping it into a circle, the eternal message was continued. A circle never ends. It will go on forever. The same message told through two mediums: the evergreen and the circle shape.
Today, you’ll find wreaths made of many other items. I have one made out of wine corks and with holly berries on them. I’ve seen wreaths made out of pinecones and bark. But in the end, the symbol of eternal life comes through loud and clear.
This year as you put up your holiday wreath, think of the history behind it and the long stories that come with them. Think of the Roman generals riding in their chariots proclaiming a victory and how it has now come to you to enjoy during the holiday season.