Wreaths come full circle

Published 10:35 pm Friday, December 18, 2009

Driving down Main Street, you’ll notice the wreaths bedecking many doors and light poles. They’re sold all over and made with evergreens, bells, bows and pinecones.

But where did the Christmas wreath come from, and what is the meaning behind it?

“The wreath has a lot of historical and religious symbolism behind it. I think that mostly now it’s just a decorative thing,” said Lee King, the curator at Riddick’s Folly.

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The earliest records of wreaths were found in ancient Rome, where people made them from olive branches and used them as signs of victory.

“Later, people used evergreen twigs, branches and flowers,” King said.

During the dark months of winter in Eastern Europe, pre-Christian Germanic people gathered evergreen branches and lit fires as a sign of hope that spring was coming and for renewed light.

“Eventually, using a wreath during Christmas became a Christian tradition,” King said.

By the 16th century, Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used the wreath to symbolize their advent season. The tradition of the advent wreath spread to other parts of Europe from Germany.

During advent season, four candles were placed around the wreath and one in the center and lit to symbolize the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, coming in to a dark world.

While churches still use the advent wreath to celebrate the Christmas season, the tradition of hanging a wreath on a door or window has spread beyond Christians and is now often a part of the secular celebration of Christmas, bringing their historical significance full circle.