Christmas Wreaths, A Rich Tradition

Tim Ahern | October 27, 2014

Many people have grown accustomed to seeing Christmas wreaths on doors throughout their neighborhoods, especially during the month of December. While our generation thinks of wreaths as a great way to show our festive spirit, they actually have a rich history steeped in tradition. By learning a little more about the origin of the Christmas wreath as we’ve come to know it today, you’ll likely develop a deeper appreciation when you hang one on your door this Christmas season.

Persian Empire

Wreaths can be traced all the way back to ancient times, when wreaths were worn as headbands during the Persian Empire. This tradition was carried over to Ancient Greece, where wreaths were worn as headbands by the winners of the Olympic Games. In a similar tradition, headband wreaths became customary for Roman leaders, as well as being hung on doors as a sign of victory. In this sense, wreaths tended to serve as crowns, designated a person’s status and rank in society.

Winter Solstice Celebrations

Legend has it that Roman soldiers came up with the idea of decorating with holly after seeing it done in Britain. Holly was used for decorating during Roman times because it was believed to have magic powers, mostly due to its ability to survive even the coldest winters. By including wreaths in their winter solstice celebrations each year, Romans felt as though they were bringing an element of luck into their homes and communities. They hung wreaths made from holly in their homes to ward off the evil spirits they believe lurked during the bleakest months of the year. Over time, the original reason for hanging wreaths during the coldest months of the year faded and people began to associate wreaths with Christian faith.

European Harvest Wreaths

In Europe, wreaths made from harvested plants like wheat were hung on doors year-round as a way of bringing luck to the yearly harvest. The tradition has carried forward in harvest festivals around the world to help ensure plentiful harvest seasons. Over time, the harvest wreath has come to symbolize growth and accomplishment, as well as being a beautiful way to celebrate the many colors of autumn.

Modern Wreaths

The use of evergreen in wreaths can be traced as far back as the 17th century, where advent wreaths were used to celebrate the impending arrival of Christmas. The circle of the wreath symbolizes continuous life and four candles are placed around it. Today’s wreaths are used in funerals and placed on headstones at cemeteries as a way of memorializing and honoring the deceased. Both harvest wreaths and Christmas wreaths are a part of many families’ annual holiday celebrations, decorating the doors of many homes during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Because of their long history and current popularity, wreaths have also become effective with fundraisers. School groups, scouts and other non-profit groups have great success with Christmas wreath fundraisers because wreaths are a product that people tend to buy already.

Christmas wreaths have become a way to kick off the holiday season. Unlike other decorations, they can be easily put in place and provide weeks of lasting beauty. For that reason, they will likely remain an integral part of fall and Christmas for many years to come.