We are nearing the Christmas season, a time when festive decor begins to emerge on the porches, front lawn, and family space within. The twinkling lights beckon the ever-attentive eyes of wee ones, as the carols of yesteryear pull us into memories of family and seasons gone by. As we near this season, I thought I'd take a few days to discover just what it is these "symbols" of Christmas really mean. What is their background? How did they come to be acquainted with the Christmas season? The first is that of the wreath. Many a door will be adorned with the festive green wreathe topped with a bright red bow. Others will veer from the more "traditional" wreathe, displaying creativity galore as wreathes of all sorts emerge from old rags cleverly tied to the wreathe form to brightly colored tree ornaments clustered into a beautiful display. Traditionally, the wreathe has been displayed on the front doors of many a home this time of year. We even see them prominently displayed over large fireplaces, in the fronts of our churches, and in other very conspicuous locations. It might just do us some good to learn the meaning behind this "sign of the season".
And he made two capitals of molten brass to set upon the tops of the pillars; the height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits; and nets of checker work and wreaths of chain work for the capitals which were upon the top of the pillars, seven for the one capital and seven for the other capital. (I Kings 7:16-17 KJV)
As the many adornments of the great home of King Solomon were being built, the craftsmen incorporated "wreathes" of sorts around the top of the pillars. Wreathes of chain, as they were called, displayed at the top of the huge pillars of the entry way into the King's newest addition to his capital buildings. Why a wreathe? Symbolically, the wreathe is formed of a circle of anything which is continuous or joined together into a circle. In this respect, it came to stand for "eternal" or "eternity" as the shape symbolized no beginning and no end. The Romans used the wreathe to decorate their doorways as a symbol of their victory in battle - indicating they was to be no end to their victory. Most of the oldest forms of wreathes were fashioned out of something such as brass, bronze, or other metals. In time, living things such as the branches of trees, flowers, and the like, were woven into these wreathes of "eternity". This later tradition came about as a reminder of the hope of winter's passing and the dawning of a fresh growth with springtime. Winters could be harsh, so the reminder gave a little cheer to those feeling the gloom of winter.
How did holly become a "traditional" part of our holiday wreathes? If you didn't know, this practice of incorporating the green leaves and red berries into the wreathes was a Druid tradition, symbolizing their belief in the magical power of the green leaves. You see, they considered holly as a sacred plant simply because it never died - it was green all year round. If it remained shiny and green year round, then it must have some "magical" power within. We can thank the Romans for continuing this tradition of the green wreath and even with the exchange of wreathes as a means of celebration. Did you know that about 600 years after Christ's death the church declared these "green wreathes" as pagan or heathen, banning them from use by Christians of the time? It took a great many years before these wreathes were seen again in Christian homes!
The wreathe took on the symbolism of Christ's crown of thorns sometime in either the 16th or 17th century. This brought it back into "vogue" in Christian circles. Since it was associated with his crown, it also stood for eternal life and the power or hope of resurrection. As such, it became the symbol of Christmas in Christian homes, bringing those who exchanged these wreathes with others the symbolism of peace, joy, and great contentment. In the day of early colonization of the United States, men and women of affluence would add to the beautiful green wreathes the things we may have come to associate with "modern day decorations" - things like pomegranates to symbolize wealth, pine cones to symbolize continued growth, etc. These wreathes were kept up for about twelve days, then the many fruits and other items used within them would be dismantled and incorporated into the great holiday feast.
Probably one of the most consistent themes of the Christmas wreathe down through the generations is this idea of eternity. As we glance upon the wreathes adorning our homes, work spaces, and public buildings this Christmas season, let these beautifully adorned "decorations" of the season remind us of the majesty of new life in Christ Jesus. Let their eternal circle bring us into an ever-increasing awareness of where and how it is we will spend our eternity - in the presence of a holy and loving God through the blood of his dear Son, Jesus. The wreathe may have taken on many a meaning through the ages, but let us not lose sight of some of the positive meanings of the beautiful display - eternal hope, victory never to be taken from us, and the hope of a bounty all provided from the hand of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Just sayin!