Wreaths were created in the same way the Christmas trees were created. For some it symbolizes the strength of life overcoming the forces of winter. Back in ancient Rome, people used decorative wreaths as a sign of victory. Some believe that this is where the hanging of wreaths on doors came from. Since these times, many wreaths have been made. Some are made for crafts, others for purely decoration, and yet others have more deeper meanings.
In ancient Greece a coral wreath was awarded to victors in sporting events. In the way that we now award gold medals, the wreath was a sign of victory. It meant much the same to the ancient Romans, a sign of victory over challengers. It is believed that victors of battles would hang wreaths upon their doors to advertise their status.
Did you know in the early days in Europe, people would put wreaths on their doors to identify their home in the same manner that house numbers are used today. Each house would have a different wreath made of quite exotic flowers, most likely grown by the home owner right on their own land.
Religiously, the advent wreath has a place in Catholic tradition. This special wreath is created with four candles, each a different color. One candle is lit each Friday of Advent with a prayer. In this, the wreath represents the coming if the Christmas celebration. Scandinavian wreaths also feature candles. The candles light the winter night’s and are a sign of hope for the future light of spring. It was believed the wreath and candles would encourage the god of light to turn the world towards the sun once more.
The tradition of the wreath extends further back than the beginnings of Christian tradition. Pagan rituals of mid-winter often featured a wreath of evergreen with 4 candles. The candles were placed in each of the four directions, representing the elements of earth, wind, water and fire. Rituals were performed to ensure the continuance of the circle of life.
Much symbolism can be attributed to the Christmas wreath. The shape of a circle has no beginning and no ending. This may represent the eternal nature of a god’s love, or the circle of life. Evergreens are used to represent immortality and the victory of life through darkness and challenge. The fact that evergreens live through winter signifies the strength of life.
The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world. Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens with a fifth candle in the middle. Three candles are violet and the fourth is rose, but four white candles or four violet candles can also be used. Each day at home, the candles are lighted, perhaps before the evening meal– one candle the first week, and then another each succeeding week until December 25th. A short prayer may accompany the lighting of each candle. The last candle is the middle candle. The lighting of this candle takes place on Christmas Eve. It represents Jesus Christ being born.
The Christmas wreath, like the evergreens used as Christmas trees, symbolizes the strength of life overcoming the forces of winter. In ancient Rome, people used decorative wreaths as a sign of victory and celebration. The custom of hanging a Christmas wreath on the front door of the home probably came from this practice.
The Christmas wreath did not come to America from the continent of Europe, since it was hardly used there in past centuries (except in the form of the Advent wreath). It seems to have been introduced here by the Irish immigrants and gradually became part of the American Christmas scene.
Today, it is common custom to hang on doors or walls with a different wreath for each season. Wreaths are an eternal part of the festive seasons.