The wreath is a circular plant arrangement that originated in the ancient world. It is difficult to trace back exactly when the first wreath was created, but it is widely thought that the Greeks were the wreath pioneers, using them extensively and integrating them into their culture. The history of floral wreaths stems from the laurel wreath.
The Ancient Wreath
The Ancient Greeks used wreaths as a decoration worn upon their heads that symbolized their rank, occupation, achievements, and status. The Greek god of the sun, Apollo, wore a wreath of laurel. As legend goes, Apollo was enchanted to fall in love with the nymph Daphne, after angering the god of love, Eros. Eros then enchanted Daphne to forever be unable to love. After continually fleeing Apollo, Daphne finally begged Gaia, the goddess of the earth, to save her from Apollo’s advances. She did so by turning Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo, in his grief, wove a wreath from the branches of the tree and wore it to carry the memory of his beloved with him forever. Because Apollo was associated with victory, achievement, and status, the wreath soon became a symbol of such. In the original Olympic Games, laurel wreaths were used to crown the champions. Olive wreaths soon became commonly used among the Greeks as well. The crown wreath spread to ancient Rome and was worn by the nobility.
Like the Greeks and the Romans, Etruscan rulers wore wreaths as crowns. The classic Etruscan wreath is made of gold or other precious metals with thin metal leaves attached to an ornamental band to resemble a diadem. Often entwined in the wreath designs were symbols from Greek myths, alluding to the Greek ancestry of the Etruscans.
The Greeks also used harvest wreaths hung on the doors of their homes to bring good luck to the yearly harvest. They were created with wheat or other harvested plants woven together with white and red wool thread. The harvest wreath was not only used in Greece, but was spread throughout Europe as well. The Polish used the harvest wreath, decorated with fruits and nuts, in their harvest festival, Dozynki. The wreath was created by the family and then blessed by the priest of the church and carried back to the home in a traditional procession led by a girl or young woman.
The classical wreath has evolved into modern times with the help of Christianity. Christians used wreaths as part of their ceremonies for the Advent season, the season leading up to Christmas to celebrate the coming of Christ. The 16th century Lutherans used them to educate the children about the meaning of Christmas, placing a candle in the wreath for each Sunday of Advent. The wreath is traditionally made of evergreens and represents eternal life brought through Jesus and his sacrifices. The Advent wreath evolved into the standard Christmas wreath hung on doors during the winter. Both the continually green leaves of the evergreen trees and the circular shape of the wreath represent everlasting life. This symbolism is also used in funeral wreaths. The use of memorial wreaths dates back to our wreath pioneers, the Greeks. Floral funeral wreaths were used in early modern England. White flowers adorned the arrangement to symbolize the pureness of the deceased.
The wreath is an ancient symbol of power and wealth, eternity and good luck. Look around at the world today, and you will see this symbol on doors, as centerpieces, at wakes. The wreath has evolved into an art of its own and populates the homes of people across the world.