Like so many of our Christmas traditions, the Christmas wreath was popularised in the Victorian era, but it has its roots in ancient customs and symbolism.
Evergreens being used as decorations was a common feature of Roman life. A laurel wreath would have been worn by brides to symbolise celebration, by political leaders to demonstrate power and by the early Olympic winners to commemorate victory.
All across Europe, evergreen boughs were brought into the home during winter festivals to symbolise new life, rebirth and the hope of spring growth. Whole trees were often brought into the home. Having trimmed the tree of its widest branches, they would then use the remaining greenery for further decoration, plaiting the boughs into circles. Thus, the wreath as we now know it was born.
The wreath came to have a profound spiritual significance in Christian culture. In medieval times, many wreaths were triangular, with the three points representing the holy trinity of God – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Later, these wreaths were used as simple tree decorations and were wheel-like in shape, making them easy to hang on the tree. The idea of a circle became synonymous with the notion of everlasting life and divine perfection. Advent circles adorned with four candles became the most common way to mark the run up to the Christan festival of Christmas.
The practice of hanging a wreath on the front door at Christmas was really about signalling that a household was Christian and welcomed the spirit of Christmas into the home. Given that wreaths are also used for funerals, this simple decoration has a wide cultural significance and has come to be associated with formal expressions of grief, as well as hope. Since the Victorian adoption of many German traditions, however, the ornately decorated Christmas door wreath stands apart as a joyful and uplifting.
Christmas wreath materials
Originally, all wreaths were made from evergreens, with red-berried holly and ivy often intertwined. Nowadays, all manner of materials can be used to create attractively ornate wreaths. Natural materials abundant in the winter, like hazel stems, pinecones and eucalyptus, can be woven together for a lovely, earthy look, often supplemented by dried flowers and fruits. Pre-lit wreaths are a great way to signal a warm welcome to Christmas guests and create an appealing festive glow in porches and doorways. Artificial materials allow us to reuse wreaths year on year, and brightly coloured wreaths offering sparkle are hugely popular.
Quirky wreath ideas
Christmas decorations don’t have to be traditional. Wreaths can be crocheted, knitted or formed of pompoms. Circular garlands featuring red robins, snowmen and icicles build on familiar festive imagery, and wreaths woven with sweets, chocolates and tiny Christmas biscuits can also be found. All manner of decoration can be added to personalise a wreath, such as peacock feathers, seashells, balloons and baubles.
Making your own Christmas wreath is a great way to get into the festive spirit, and it’s an ideal opportunity to flex your creative muscles and stamp your personality on this year’s Christmas decorations.