We see them on doors and fences, windows and walls.
Some are even attached to the fronts of cars and trucks.
The evergreen Christmas wreath is a ubiquitous holiday adornment. So much so, perhaps, that it’s easy to overlook its rich symbolism.
“The evergreen wreath — its circular shape an emblem not only of perfection and unity but also of the warm, enduring sun — later became a Christian symbol for Christ’s suffering and ultimate triumph over death,” according to a 1988 New York Times article. “It is believed that the holly wreath, with its sharp, pointed leaves, first represented the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross, the little red berries symbolizing drops of blood. Later wreaths were formed from a variety of pines and firs, with evergreens embodying eternal life.”
The tradition of bringing evergreen trees into homes dates to the 16th century, according to a Time magazine article, crediting Germans specifically. Pruning trees to make them fit or more shapely left “pieces of greenery” that lent themselves to wreath-making.
“These people were living in a time when everything in their lives was used until it was gone,” said Ace Collins, author of “Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas.”
Wreaths had other associations prior to Christmas, however: as “a prominent emblem of victory and power in ancient Greece and Rome.” Victorious athletes were crowned with wreaths of many sorts, including olives, laurel, wild celery and pine. Wreaths also were worn by priests, by brides and by guests at a feast.
‘Representation of eternal life’
In the context of Christmas, wreaths originally served as tree ornaments.
“They were formed into a wheel-like shape partially for convenience’s sake — it was simple to hang a circle onto the branches of a tree — but the shape was also significant as a representation of divine perfection,” Time wrote.
Similarly, evergreen trees were revered for their ability to survive winter.
“Together,” Time noted, “the circular shape and the evergreen material make the wreath a representation of eternal life.”
While you can’t make an evergreen wreath last forever, you can get the most out of one by following these simple tips:
–Fresh wreaths will get dry over time, but spray-on products such as Wilt Pruf seal moisture in (it works on garland and Christmas trees, too). Be sure to do this away from your door and before hanging the wreath to avoid making a mess.
–Wreaths can cook if placed between a door and a glass storm door, so hang them on an outside door exposed to the elements.
–Keep wreaths out of direct sunlight if possible, such as on a door under a porch roof.