Almost every Christian household hangs an advent/Christmas wreath on their door during the yuletide. In New Orleans, Halloween wreaths festoon the properties. Having spent half my life in New England, I am accustomed to seeing wreaths on the front door during every season. There is a huge craft market online with wreaths made of all sorts of objects.
Wreath crowns have been in existence since the Golden Days of Greece, signifying status, achievements, rank or occupation. These wreaths were worn on the head, and are still used today in ceremonial situations.
Just when wreaths went from the head to the door is unknown. In the 16th century, Protestants had an advent wreath set on a table, with red and white candles to be lit each night. It is believed that wreaths that were no longer worn or used on a table were hung up in the home as a decoration/souvenir.
Wreaths celebrating mid-winter are usually made from evergreens and symbolize strength, since evergreens last through the harsh winters. The circular shape of the wreath can represent God, with no beginning and no end, or Christian immortality, or simply the cycle of seasons.
The name wreath is derived from a middle English word, wrethe, meaning a twisted band or ring of leaves or flowers in a garland. Holly berries were often added because of their supposed magical powers; they are a shiny berry that keeps its red color and bright green leaves throughout the winter, complementing the hardiness of the evergreens. Red also can symbolize the blood of Jesus, shed during his crucifixion.
In the early days in Europe, people would put wreaths on their doors to identify their home, much as house numbers are used today. Each wreath would be made of specific flowers usually grown by the home owner.
Spring was celebrated with spring flowers, maypoles, and May wreaths. Dried fruit or flowers were originally placed in a wreath to symbolize the promise of spring. By the Renaissance period in England, wreaths became symbols of political and religious alliances. Following the overthrow of Charles I of England, wreaths symbolized Royalist sympathies. Protestant reformers such as the Puritans saw wreaths and holidays such as May Day, as being pagan, corrupting Christian morality.
Plants traditionally used to make Midsummer wreaths and garlands include white lilies, green birch, fennel, St. John’s Wort, wormwood, vervain and flax. The flowers used in making the Midsummer wreath had to be picked early in the morning before the dew had dried; the belief was that once the dew dried, the magical properties of the plants also evaporated. Midsummer celebrations are still observed in Germany and Scandinavia, with wreaths, similar to England.
The creation of harvest wreaths in Europe can be traced back to ancient times associated with animistic beliefs.
In Ancient Greece, the harvest wreath was made of wheat or other harvested plants, woven together with red and white wool thread. The festivals devoted to Dionysus, the Oschophoria and Anthesteria, included a ritual procession called the eiresîonê. Young boys sang as they led a procession carrying a harvest wreath to Pyanopsia and Thargelia. The laurel or olive wreath would be hung at the door, and then offerings were made to Helios and the Hours. It was hoped that this ritual would bring protection against crop failure and plagues. In Poland, the harvest wreath (wieniec) is a symbol of the Harvest Festival, Dozynki. Wreaths are made of different shapes and sizes, using harvested grain plants, fruit and nuts. The wreath is then brought to a church for a blessing by a priest. A girl or young woman would then lead a procession to the home, where the family had a celebration and feast. Ukraine, Hungary, and other Eastern Europe cultures also have similar rituals that began as part of pre-Christian culture.
Today, many decorative pieces can be used to spruce up any wreath. Seashells, ornaments, pinecones, decorative balls, ribbons, feathers, lights, coral, candles, colored eggs and berries can enhance a wreath for year round display. Some people keep a basic wreath, changing its decorations as seasons and holidays change. Whenever you hang your wreath and wherever you choose to hang it, know that there is a deep history behind this circle of life.