I struggle to get into the holiday spirit. Christmas music gives me a migraine, picking out presents makes me anxious and — let’s be honest — gingerbread houses are a waste of (frankly, mediocre) cookies.
Since I’ve moved to Maine, though, the ever-present evergreens and the magic of freshly fallen snow have seeped into my soul. I find myself Christmas-curious. I’m not about to start belting Mariah Carey and blanketing my house with wall-to-wall twinkle lights, but I wanted to find a way to celebrate my way: by getting in touch with the wonderful, wintery natural world and making something to symbolize the joy of the holidays — family, coming together and taking a moment to appreciate what matters — with my own two hands.
So, I decided to make a wreath.
Though wreaths have been used throughout history for various ceremonial purposes, the holiday wreath as we know it today can be traced back to the pagan holiday of Yule. The 12-day ancient Germanic and Scandanavian festival celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Revelers constructed wreaths to signify nature and the promise of spring, and adorned them with lit candles to symbolize the return of warmth and sunlight.
Holiday wreaths were adopted by Christians in the early 16th century, as the practice of bringing evergreen trees indoors around the Christmas season began to catch on among eastern and northern Europeans. The trees were pruned into the shape of a triangle to represent the Trinity — Catholic legend even says that Saint Boniface, a monk from England, used the three points of an evergreen tree to explain the concept of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost back in the seventh century — and the clippings were woven into wreaths.
Upcycling in one of its earliest forms — how could I resist?
These early wreaths were known as Advent wreaths and were rife with their own symbolism. Evergreens represent eternal life because the trees were able to survive harsh winters. Wreaths were adorned with red berries and thorny holly oak leaves to signify the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and the drops of blood it drew. Advent wreaths also held four candles that symbolize different components of the coming and light of Christ. Sometimes, a fifth, white candle was added to the center of the wreath — the Christ candle — and lit on Christmas Eve.
I found the symbolism of early advent wreaths is a little eerie, but today, wreaths are hung on a door or a window primarily is a decoration and symbolic invitation to the spirit of Christmas to enter the home and bring luck for the new year.
Maybe if I make a wreath, I thought, it will bring a little spirit — Christmas, Pagan or otherwise — to my holiday season.