Circle of life

It might look like just a pretty, twinkly adornment to welcome guests to your home at Christmas, but the festive door wreath or garland has a much deeper meaning that goes back centuries.

The word wreath comes from the word “writhen” – an old English word meaning “to writhe” or “to twist.”

Hence, the Christmas wreath is made by twisting or bending evergreen branches into a large circle, which is then traditionally decorated with pinecones and a red bow.

In the Christian tradition, the circular shape of the wreath is meant to represent Christ’s eternal love, his strength, and the creation of new life. Evergreens are commonly used to make the wreath because of the way they survive throughout harsh winters, symbolising strength and immortality.

It is thought that the practice of hanging Christmas wreaths originated from the Romans, who hung wreaths on their doors as a sign of victory and of their status in society. Roman women also wore them as headdresses as a symbol of pride, and donned them during special occasions such as weddings.

Christmas wreaths in the Catholic tradition featured four candles – three of purple, symbolizing penance, and expectation, and one of pink to represent the coming joy. Similarly to Catholic customs, traditional Pagan wreaths were also evergreen circles consisting of four candles. These candles represented the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. Their wreaths were typically used in rituals that would ensure the continuance of the circle of life.

The use of evergreens for Christmas wreaths and other decorations is thought to have originated in northern Europe, Italy and Spain in the early 19th century.  It was then that the traditional colours of Christmas were established as green and red – green to represent the continuance of life through the winter, and red for the blood of Christ.

In recent years, the wreath has become an increasingly popular decoration in the US, Canada and the UK, with craft workshops and floral decoration classes devoted to the intricate art of creating the most stunning door wreath in the neighbourhood.