Myths Behind the Holiday Evergreen Wreath
Today's holiday celebrations are connected to ancient ways by the season and by the beauty and symbology of the evergreen tree. Celts, Romans, early Christians, and civilizations around the world lived close to nature and the outdoors. They worshipped within groves of ancient trees. Early pagans would honor the largest tree by placing presents beneath it, and many cultures tied items to tree branches as symbols of prayers or thanks.
Trees and other plants that stayed green the year round were considered to have power. The evergreen tree symbolized power over darkness and death, and represented the never-ending cycle of the natural world. Life continues its cycle even in the coldest and darkest of days of the year.
Wreaths are an ancient symbol of victory. In the case of the holiday wreath, this can be imagined as victory over darkness, winter, or death. The circular shape represents eternal rebirth, while evergreens symbolize eternal life. Laurel has been used since the Roman Empire as a symbol for victory; cedar suggests strength and healing; and holly, pine and yew represent immortality.
Even cultures that celebrated outdoors began bringing evergreens indoors as reminders that the sun would return. Some of the other natural items used to decorate wreaths also had ancient significance. For example, Holly is also an evergreen tree, which in Celtic times was recognized as growing hidden among the oaks for much of the year, but asserting itself over its brother the Oak. As winter approached the Oak lost its leaves and, symbolically, its power.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and the holly tree was considered sacred to Saturn. In spite of protests from the Christian church, many Christians adopted both holly and other evergreens into their Christmas celebrations. Holly's prickly leaves have come to symbolize Jesus' crown of thorns, and the red berries represent drops of his bloodshed to save mankind.
On the other hand, Druids believed that holly warded off witches and lightning, and many brought holly into their homes during the winter months to provide shelter for fairies during the storms.
As we weave our holiday garlands and wreaths, we can remember these ancient stories of faith and hope, and weave some of these images into our decorations as well. But the holiday season is a time of generosity and festivity whether you believe these ancient stories or not. No knowledge or belief is necessary to appreciate a wreath's beauty and welcoming spirit.