Perhaps the most popular holiday decorations is the Christmas Wreath. Christmas Wreaths are used in many different ways and in different settings. It is common to see them on the stairway, hanging on walls or doors, or even as a centerpiece on a table. From homes to large offices, Christmas Wreaths are a pleasant sight throughout the holiday season.
The term “Wreath”, is linked to our word “Wrist”, with both terms forming a continuous physical circular shape. It also came from Middle English’s “wrethe”, meaning a twisted band or ring of leaves or flowers in a garland.
Wreaths have been used symbolically for centuries. The circle or ring shape is symbolic of eternity or eternal life, the shape has no beginning or end. In ancient Rome, this symbol became so powerful that people used decorative wreaths as a sign of victory. Many believe that this is where the hanging of wreaths on doors came from.
Putting plants into the symbolic circular shape symbolizes the strength of life overcoming the forces of winter. Wreaths and other decorations during long winters often were made of whatever natural materials looked good during this bleak time of year. People would use candles, fires, evergreens, hollies, berries, and forced blossoms to decorate their wreaths.
The ancient Druids were the first society in history to have worn sprigs of holly and mistletoe. These priests believed that holly, with its glossy, shiny prickly leaves of green adorned with red berries, remained green all year due to their magical properties. The Druids considered Holly very sacred. Many believe the holly berries have given us our green and red colors of Christmas.
Combining the symbolism of the wreath with the believed magical powers of Holly, Romans exchanged Holly Wreaths as gifts. When Christianity took hold in Rome, Holly Wreaths became Christmas Wreaths as part of the holiday decorations, but mistletoe was considered “pagan” because of its mystic properties. In fact, in 575 A.D., a German Catholic Bishop forbade all Christmas greens and condemned them as “dangerous and heathen”. Churches did not see their likeness again for centuries.
In the 16th century, the word “Holly” appeared in writing for the first time, used by Shakespeare. By the 17th century, holly had become a much larger part of Christmas celebrations, the Christmas Wreath. The shape of the wreath symbolized the crown of thorns put atop the head of Jesus and the as well resurrection. Christmas Wreaths came to stand for peace & joy.
Colonists would use pomegranates and other colorful fruits to decorate a Christmas Wreath. Pomegranates, indicated wealth. Other things used to decorate Christmas Wreaths included: seashells, pinecones, and other imported items. The colonists celebrated the Christmas for 12 consecutive days; hence, the “12 Days of Christmas”. At the end of the 12th day, on January 5th, people would take down their Christmas Wreaths and other holiday decorations. They removed the fruit and added them to the holiday feast, enjoying the bounty of summer in the heart of winter.