The Roots of Wreaths
Exhausted from the election season? Take down the campaign signs and put up a harvest wreath. Or a Christmas wreath. You’ll be getting in touch with your pagan roots. It turns out the tradition of front door wreathes dates back thousands of years. The ancient Etruscans – the civilization on the Italian peninsula before the Romans – made wreath-crowns of ivy, oak, olive, myrtle and laurel leaves as well as wheat and vines. The ancient Greeks were fond of making crowns of laurel leaves for heroes and champions (the origin of the phrase warning against “resting on your laurels” from past victories instead of going out in search of new ones). The custom of hanging a wreath on the front doors of homes stretches across European cultures from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia. The ancient Greeks wove white and red woolen threads with vines, wheat, and other important crops to create a harvest wreath that became a home amulet – a sacred item of protection hung on front doors year-round.
From Eastern Europe through Greece and the Ukraine, in pre-Christian times many cities had ceremonies involving singing youths carrying sacred wreaths through the streets to temples at harvest. The wreaths, often laurel, were decorated with harvested fruit and nuts. They were either hung in temples or carried home; their hanging was followed by feasting and celebrations. The sanctified wreaths were supposed to protect cities and home-dwellers against plagues and misfortune and ensure a good harvest the coming year. In Scandinavian countries, harvest wreaths were braided from wheat straw and hung on farm doors year-round for protection -- and to bring good crops the following season. A few months after harvest, evergreen boughs were key to mid-winter celebrations across Europe: from the Alps north through France, Germany, the British Isles and into Scandinavia. Evergreen boughs, and often mistletoe and holly, were brought inside and hung over doorways and hearths during winter solstice “Yule” celebrations. The evergreens symbolized the undying power of nature, and the promise that spring would return after winter. With the advent of Christianity (yes, that is a pun), the new church seized on evergreen wreaths and traditions as a perfect symbol of the new faith. The church taught that the wreath – a circle – has no beginning or end (like God) and the evergreen boughs became a symbol of Christ’s victory over death (because they're 'evergreen' - they don't 'die' every winter like deciduous trees). In the 1500s, the Lutheran church in Germany started using evergreen “Advent” wreath to mark the days of the four weeks before Christmas. For those who weren’t raised Catholic or Lutheran, an “Advent Wreath” is a horizontal evergreen wreath used as a base for four candles, with a fifth set in the center. The candles are lit in succession each night each during the four weeks before Christmas Eve. Centuries later, by the time of the Mayflower, the Puritans decided wreaths were corrupt pagan decorations and a needless excess any way you looked at them, and out they should go – Bah Humbug! If you’re a wreath fan, tell your inner Scrooge goodbye and head over to the Windsor Garden Club meeting at the Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15. Find out more about the Windsor Garden Club and its workshops, groups and projects at www.windsorgardenclub.org.