by Mary Stickley-Godinez
Around the holidays, we often adorn our homes with wreaths on our front doors. Did you ever wonder where this tradition came from? It turns out this symbol of Christmas has quite a long history.
The earliest known fabricated wreaths in history came from the Etruscans, the civilization that inhabited the Italian peninsula before the Romans. Many graves have been found containing gold wreaths that were worn on the head and depicted leaves and plants.
The leader of all the Greek gods was Zeus. The ancient Greeks believed he went into an oak grove to make his most important decisions. Thus the oak wreath symbolized wisdom and judgement.
Another myth of the ancient Greeks told of the Sun God, Apollo, who fell in love with Daphne. She was frightened by him and tried to escape his advances. In her terror, she called out to a river nymph for help and he turned her into a laurel tree. Heartbroken at his loss, Apollo wore a laurel wreath on his head from then on. So in Greek culture, the laurel wreath was used to symbolize victory, achievement and status. And it was the coveted prize of the first Olympics.
The Romans continued this practice by using the laurel wreath to crown their leaders, victors and heroes.
Another wreath, the harvest wreath, was also quite popular throughout pagan Europe. These were predominantly made of woven wheat, but also sometimes used other grains as well as nuts, berries and fruits. Annually, a celebration occurred in which a harvest wreath was marched throughout a town to bring on an abundant harvest and to protect against crop failure and plague. Smaller versions of the harvest wreath were hung on the front door or the gate throughout the year to protect and bring luck to individual homes.
It is believed to be the early Lutherans that gave us the Advent Wreath. The legend tells of a devout gentleman who was trying to help his children count the days and weeks before Christmas day. He took a wagon wheel and fixed candles to it. The candles were lit to mark each day with a special one to mark each week. The wheel was a circle, an early symbol of infinity that was also used to explain how the Christian God had no beginning or end. Later versions were adorned with evergreens to depict everlasting life.
Over time the Advent Wreath took the place of harvest wreaths on the doors and posts of devout Christians. But the nuts and fruits worked their way into the greens, making them a beautiful tribute to God’s creation. Today wreaths can be used to decorate your home during all seasons. Enjoy the beauty of a wreath of spring buds, summer blooms, autumn leaves and nuts, and winter cones and pods hanging on your door. But don’t forget the rest of the home. A Thanksgiving wreath of herbs or dried flowers and pods can be used as a centerpiece for the dining table.
And come Christmas, use mixed greens and berries to make wreaths to use throughout your home. In addition to the dining table, hang one on a blank wall or in the windows. Enjoy a small wreath on tabletops or as a base for a thick candle. Prop one above the mantle or drape it over the handrail of the stairs. And of course, don’t forget to welcome family and friends with the one on your front door.