Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Wreaths

The Christmas wreath is an example of one of those more archaic customs I was talking about earlier which has made its way, in one form or another, into the holiday through several centuries of customs. It’s also a pretty great example of necessity being the mother of invention. At its most basic, the Christmas wreath is a circle of evergreen twigs. Evergreen has always been a symbol for eternal life and back before the dawn of civilization (and indoor heating and supermarkets and other necessities for surviving cold weather) when the likelihood of surviving a winter in any given year was pretty slim people looked to evergreens as a symbol of hope.  The circular arrangement of the wreath is symbolic of the circular pattern of the seasons and a reminder that spring- and that plants that sustained them- will come again. Historians think that people were decorating their houses with them in wintertime- regardless of religion or folk custom- for far longer than historical record indicates. Because of this, there’s debate on exactly where it came from and when it became common custom. Regardless, chances are good that wreaths were decorating doorways long before Christianity came into existence.

Like most Christian holidays, Christmas sucked up the preexisting customs of the time and adapted them to fit the symbolism of the holiday. Extra colors, decorations, and variations were adapted over the years and turned into a symbol for more specific themes. Arguably the most well known variation is the Advent Wreath which marks the passage of time in preparation for the coming of Christ with candles. But all wreaths follow similar visual cues around Christmas time and as such are amazingly abundant just about everywhere you look nowadays. I like them because I grew up lighting the candles on our advent wreath so they’re deeply rooted in memory as being intrinsic to Christmas. And because they smell nice.

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