The Christmas wreath
The word “wreath” comes from the Old English “writhan,” meaning “to twist,” and over the centuries, wreaths have been associated with a variety of cultures. It’s believed that wreaths date back to the Persian Empire, ancient Egypt, and ancient Greece, but their purpose during those times differs from the way that they are popularly used today.
Christmas wreaths are also connected with the pagan holiday of Yule, marking the winter solstice, which was celebrated by ancient Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. This 12-day festival, which was also called midwinter, was held to honor the returning of the sun and the seasonal cycle. The wreaths used during Yule were meant to symbolize nature and the promise of spring. They held candles that were lit in hopes of the return of the warmth and the sunlight. Rome, too, had an annual midwinter celebration, called Saturnalia, during which they worshiped Saturn, who was the god of agriculture or sowing, from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. For Saturnalia, Romans used holly wreaths as a form of decoration and also gave them as gifts.
But perhaps the most widespread and well-known use of wreaths comes in connection with Christmas and with Christianity, as their circular shape is said to symbolize eternal life and the unending love of God. In the 16th century, the use of wreaths during Yule was adopted by Christians and became a custom in the form of Advent wreaths. These wreaths were traditionally made of evergreens, which also symbolize eternal life, holly oak, and red berries. The red berries and the thorny leaves of the holly oak represented the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and the drops of blood that they drew. The Advent wreath is meant to hold four candles, three purple and one pink. The first candle to be lit during Advent is meant to symbolize hope and is a purple one called the prophecy candle. On the second Sunday of Advent, another purple candle, called the Bethlehem candle, is lit. It symbolizes love to some and the manger of Jesus to others. The pink candle, called the shepherd candle, represents joy and is lit on the third Sunday of Advent. Peace is represented by the angel candle, which is the final purple candle and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Sometimes, a fifth, white candle is added to the center of the wreath. This is referred as the Christ candle, and it’s lit on Christmas Eve. These candles symbolize the coming of the light of Christ.