You might hang a wreath on your front door because it looks attractive.
You might hang a Christmas wreath on your front door because it makes you feel more ‘Christmassy’ and the kids like it.
But it’s important to understand the meaning of wreaths because it’s symbolic.
There’s just one small problem – the meaning of wreaths is clouded in confusion. There are different schools of thought depending on who you listen to.
However we’ve summarised a few hypotheses to give you some clarity regarding the history of wreaths.
What’s the meaning of wreaths?
Wreaths are said to represent the wheel of the year. This correlates with modern day reasoning to hang a wreath outside in spring, summer, autumn and winter, the wheel of the seasons.
The word ‘wreath’ is said to come from the old English word ‘writhan’, ‘to twist’, as in a circle or wheel.
Alternatively, it’s said to translate as ‘a thing bound around’ from the Greek word Diadema.
Ancient Romans called wreaths ‘corona’ in Latin. It related to the idea of wearing a wreath on the head, made from leaves, grass, flowers and branches.
Religious Meaning – Hypothesis #1
The traditional circular shape of the wreath symbolised eternal life. No start point. No end point.
Red, green, white or purple were often used to represent blood, life, joy, sacrifice or forgiveness in Jesus.
When Jesus wore a crown of holly branches, the white berries are said to have turned red.
Today, the ‘crown’ element still exists. Christmas wreaths are sometimes called a Christmas crown or advent crown.
Greek, Roman and Egyptian Meaning – Hypothesis #2
In Roman times, a wreath would be used as a crown, especially when celebrating. It represented power, victory and success.
This symbolism has been carried forward to the modern era and the Olympic Games. On each medal there is a laurel wreath to represent victory.
Laurel wreaths can be traced back to the myth involving Apollo, Zeus’ son, and the god of life and light, who fell in love with the nymph Daphne. When he pursued her she fled and asked the river god Peneus to help. Peneus turned her into a laurel tree. From that day, Apollo wore a wreath of laurel on his head.
Mireille M. Lee, in Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece, writes, “Athletes who were victorious at the Panhellenic games were crowned with wreaths of olives (Olympia), laurel (Delphi), wild celery (Nemea), and pine (Isthmia).”
Wreaths were also awarded to poets, musicians and military personnel to award creativity and achievement.
People in Greek-Roman society handmade circular wreaths using fresh tree leaves, twigs, small fruits & flowers to represent occupation, rank and status.
Outside of competitions, a crown of leaves or flowers also represented honour and joy.
The wreath was described as “the ornament of the priest in the performance of sacrifice, of the hero on his return from victory, of the bride at her nuptials, and of the guests at a feast.”
Wreaths were also hung on doors by Romans to represent victory.
Ancient Egypt has a part to play in the meaning of wreaths. Called diadems (see above), they were worn as headdress to show power and authority. Often worn by royalty, they were made of fabric and jewels.
A chaplet was a wreath worn by non-royalty. This was often made of flowers.
A wreath with candles
The advent wreath symbolises Jesus and tends to be decorated with either four candles or five with one placed in the middle.
The first candle is a purple one, called a Prophecy candle. It’s lit to represent hope.
Another purple candle, called a Bethlehem candle, is lit on the second Sunday of advent. It’s lit to represent love to some and manger of Jesus to others.
The pink candle, called the Shepherd candle, is lit on the third Sunday of advent. This represents joy.
If there’s a forth candle, this is another purple one called the Angel candle. Lit on the forth Sunday of Advent, it represents peace.
If there’s a fifth candle, it’s white and placed in the middle of the wreath. Referred to as the Christ candle, it’s lit on Christmas Eve to represent the arrival of the Light of the World – Jesus Christ.
What does the Christmas wreath represent?
Harking back to German folklore in the 16th century, Christmas wreaths were originally Christmas tree ornaments.
Evergreen Christmas trees were often pruned to make them uniform in shape or to fit in a room. Instead of throwing away what was chopped off, the excess was woven into a wreath.
They were formed into a wheel-like shape partially for convenience’s sake — it was simple to hang a circle onto the branches of a tree.
But as previously mentioned, the shape also had symbolic meaning of eternity.
Making wreaths with evergreens
Evergreens have traditionally been used for wreath making although now this isn’t necessarily the case. You can buy dried flower wreaths for example.
Evergreens will still look their best in winter when it’s the most popular time to hang a wreath, around Christmas time.
From a symbolic perspective, evergreens represent the continuity of life and nature. Spring is on the way. New life is coming.
The red berries and the thorny leaves of the holly represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. The berries are said to represent either the drops of blood that they drew or signs of fertility.
Why hang a wreath on the front door?
Hanging a wreath on our front door at Christmas can be interpreted as an invite to Jesus to enter our home.
Or as an open invite to the spirit of Christmas to enter our home, along with the good luck it brings.
Outside of this realm of symbolism, you might hang a wreath simply as a form of decoration and self-expression.