Hanging up a Christmas wreath on the front door is one of the many traditions that takes place during the festive season, but where does this tradition stem from, and what does the wreath symbolise?
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Early forms of wreaths are said to date back to the Roman times, when they represented victory and success. While wreaths today are hung on doors, back then the Romans would place them on their heads, especially during celebrations. This association with victory is still evident today, with a symbol of the laurel wreath being engraved onto Olympic medals.
Wreaths also have a history that’s tied up with the Christian religion. It’s said that when Jesus wore a crown of holly branches, the white berries turned red. The wreath became a symbolic emblem of Jesus, and it would be decorated using four candles. Three candles would be placed on the outside of the wreath and one in the middle. On Christmas Eve, the middle candle would be lit to represent the arrival of the Light of the World – Jesus Christ. The circular shape of the wreath, without a beginning or end point, also symbolised eternal life. The colours red, green, white or purple were often used in wreaths to represent the blood, life, joy, sacrifice or forgiveness in Jesus.
Traditionally, evergreens have been used to make Christmas wreaths. There are two reasons for this: since other foliage has died off during winter, evergreens still look their best, so they are the most obvious option to use. Plus, from a symbolic point of view, evergreens represent the continuity of life and nature. They remind people that spring and new growth will soon come. Berries were added to the wreaths, to represent fertility.
The wreath is also said to represent the wheel of the year, in recognition of the fact that the darkness and cold of winter will eventually fade away. In fact, the word wreath is said to come from the old English word to twist, as in a circle or wheel.
While many people purchase their Christmas wreaths from florists or receive them as a gift, lots of people enjoy making a wreath as part of the festivities. Wreaths can be simply made using styrofoam, wire and other materials, and it’s a fun craft activity to get you in the mood for Christmas.
Although many people stick to tradition and adorn their wreath with holly and berries, opting for the customary red and green colours, other natural materials such as pinecones, fruits or flowers may be used, as well as the whole spectrum of colours. Increasingly, you can find wreaths made from fabrics, paper, knitted balls or pom-poms. Some wreaths are even made using edible items, such as citrus fruits, cinnamon sticks, sweets or biscuits. Many are also draped in baubles or fairy lights.
While mostly displayed at Christmas, some people place wreaths on their doors at other times of the year, including Halloween or Easter. In fact, in early Europe, people would hang wreaths on front doors to identify houses, instead of using numbers.
Most commonly referred to as the Christmas wreath, it is sometimes called a Christmas crown or an advent crown. Creating a warm and festive feeling, a Christmas wreath certainly adds great visual appeal when hung on a door!
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