Sunday, December 2, 2012

The History of Wreaths: Part 2

People often wonder how the symbols of Christmas, especially wreaths,
became associated with the holiday.
Historically, going all the way back before ancient Rome,
wreaths were an important way to show respect, reverence, and honor.
That is one clue as to why wreaths became important 
for celebrations such as Christmas.

In Pre-Roman centuries, the ancient Druids were said to have 
used oak leaves and mistletoe in their sacred rituals; 
some ancient monuments show images of  leafy crowns.

photo courtesy of

Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century A.D., 
recounted the Druid's use of mistletoe. 
He also offers an account of wreath making in Chapter XXI of his Naturalis Historia.
One of the things he said is that in addition to the chaplets (wreaths)
the Romans fashioned from olive, laurel, and myrtle leaves, 
they also later incorporated elements from Egyptian wreaths: 
ivy, narcissus, and pomegranate.
So if you want an ancient Egyptian-Roman wreath this Christmas,
incorporate ivy and pomegranate. 
I'd save the narcissus for spring though.

Pliny also says the best wreaths 
were created from leaves sewn together.
Later these wreaths were made of thin slices of  horn, 
embossed metal leaves, or bits of silk.

photo courtesy of

Roman wreaths were reserved for those held in the very highest esteem,
and Pliny mentions that this included their being used to honor the gods.
And woe to the person who violated this tradition.
Pliny describes how a banker named Fluvius donned a wreath of roses. 
Thus bedecked, he walked out onto his own balcony, 
which overlooked the Forum.
Fluvius was glimpsed by a passerby, 
who promptly reported him to the authorities,
and poor Fluvius was sentenced to prison for his impertinence.

It's nice to know the rules about wreaths have become less stringent
as time has gone by. And it's also nice to know 
that wreaths have been around for centuries and centuries
as important signs of reverence and symbols of the sacred.
So for authentic, traditional wreaths, here are some options:
olive, oak, myrtle, and laurel leaves and branches; 
pomegranates, ivy leaves, and mistletoe.
I like knowing that as I hang my Christmas wreaths this season,
 I'll be taking part in an ancient ritual 
symbolic of devotion and respect, as well as celebration.

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