Wreaths weren't always a thing to put on your door during the holidays. In many places, they still aren't. While door-hanging wreaths have now been adapted for any season, they used to be more akin to celebratory laurels or flower crowns. They were indicators of victory, a method of honoring the seasons, and a channel through which humans could directly connect to their environment. Their predecessors, the Etruscans, did this as well, their wreaths often depicted as being constructed from “ivy, oak, olive leaves, myrtle, laurel, wheat and vines,” (2). I will point out that “vines” likely refer to grape vines, as wine production was a prominent trade and income source. In fact, the celebratory wreath is so much a part of the culture that upon completion of a university degree, sometimes students in Italy are crowned with laurel leaves, just like victorious Olympic athletes were (3).
As a side note, while the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), that is used in victors’ crowns, is also a pot herb, there are several different species that identify with the “laurel” common name that are poisonous to both humans and livestock (4,5). Basically, if you don’t know with certainty that it’s from the right bay, buy your herbs from somewhere or someone you trust. Preferably having a label on the container, just to make your life easier.
There is a bit of distension as to the ultimate origin of the wreath in its current capacity. While some point to the Greco-Roman laurel crowns, others cite ancient, pre-Christian traditions of creating wreaths to symbolize the strength and perseverance of life within the darkness of the deep winter months (1). This is where the tradition of Christmas or Yule wreaths comes from. While some argue that one is more accurate than the other, I think it is more an example of convergent, independent evolution. Though with trade and cultural exchange being prominent components of the ancient world, it is likely that one may have peripherally influenced the other.
However you interpret the wreath’s history, both live and dry versions remain staples of seasonal festivities and decor. At least in the winter months, these wreaths are generally made from sturdy evergreen branches, like pine, and stand as symbols of this strength needed to through the winter. Likewise, they can be made with certain herbs and other plant materials, depending on their individual purposes, such as botanicals associated with mourning and loss being displayed during funerary rites (1).
The wreath has changed greatly, in some ways, over the centuries. They are sometimes shaped like hearts or crosses, shamrocks, or ovals (I know they’re supposed to be eggs, but it’s an oval). They can be made from natural or man-made materials, found objects or those specifically purchased. I recommend combining all of these elements when you’re making your own. If you start with the wire bases available at basically any craft store and either wrap some plain garland around it, or buy one with that pre-done, you can add the faux plant bits (generally called picks, if they’re the small, individual sections), and some ribbon. At this point, it’s possible to switch out the accompanying bits depending on the occasion, should you choose to. It is also possible to add in dried or fresh plant materials, if you want to bring some more life to the project and have it smell like it’s actually got plants in it. I don’t know if you’re aware, but the plastic plant bits smell like plastic… or dust. It depends on how long it’s been sitting there.
No matter how you celebrate(d) the holiday season, I hope you had a fantastic one, and may your good fortune and health continue long into the new year. Blessed be, fellow travelers.
Till next time,
P.S. What’s your favorite fandom. I’m working on a few ideas.
1. Pro Flowers (https://www.proflowers.com/blog/history-of-the-wreath)
2. Hadas, Moses (1952). A History of Latin Literature. Columbia University Press. p. 7.
3. "Crowning glories". Retrieved October 25, 2016. Six graduates of SAIS' Bologna Center joined the long tradition on May 29, when they, too, were crowned with the aromatic green wreaths.
5. "Spice Pages: Indonesian Bay-Leaf". Retrieved 2012-12-01.