The Wreath: A Christmas Story

During the cold months of the year, our outdoor plant stock is nestled comfortably in sleep and eagerly awaits the coming of spring. However, while the nursery quietly rests, the store becomes a hive of activity as it is prepared to receive the holidays. The nearly insurmountable decorative demands made requisite by the winter season are embraced with joy here at Andrews Seed, and the transformation of our store is a task always taken on with pleasure. Christmas is rapidly approaching, and we remain ever busy as the store crystallizes into a Victorian-era refuge, where those who feel winter’s chilly bite may come in and enjoy a warm afternoon respite.

In addition to offering a pleasing selection of Christmas décor, one of our favorite holiday events is our wreath-making seminar. Making available the training and hardware necessary for the crafting of a fantastic holiday wreath, we look forward to seeing a good turnout of folks ready to roll up their sleeves and dive into the wreath-making process with gusto. However, for some people, the symbolism and history behind the wreath is also important as they prepare to decorate their homes.

In A.D. 312, Constantine, laying claim to Rome’s supreme seat of power, strove against the “evil” usurper Maxentius who had established his throne in the ancient and venerable city of Rome itself. However, when the army of Constantine approached the city, it came decorated with a new set of divine symbols. Displayed across Constantine’s tools of war were symbols openly displaying Constantine’s newly-found faith in the Christian triune God. On his long march south, Constantine claims to have witnessed a crucifix of light descending from the heavens with the Latin words underneath “Hoc Signo Victor Eris”—“By this sign, you will be victorious.”

The Roman populous watched in amazement as history’s first “Christian” army defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Mulvian Bridge. Perhaps even more fascinating to the people was Constantine’s subsequent action. Rather than following the traditional route up to the apex of the Capitoline Hill in order to make an offering in the temple of Jupiter, Constantine, instead, ascended the Palantine Hill and, dropping to his knees, gave up prayers of gratitude and supplication to Jesus the Christ—a coequal member of the triune Godhead fundamental to Christian theology.

Constantine would spend the next 25 years of his reign establishing Rome, and later Constantinople in A.D. 330, as the apostolic see—a now Christianized capitol city. During this era, Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, would establish Sunday (the dies Solis—day of the sun) as a day of rest, settle disputes within Christianity, build an impressive array of Christian Basilicas (later becoming world-famous cathedrals that can be visited today), preside over the Easter controversy at the famous Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and finally, and most importantly for our purposes, establish the western world’s first Christmas celebration in A.D. 336.

Pagan Rome celebrated two holidays during the month of December: The Saturnalia (Dec. 17th – 24th) and the The Solar Solstice (Dec. 21st – 25th). Constantine, in an effort to Christianize these two holidays, began to support a Christian interpretation of the two events by 1) reinterpreting the fundamental focal point of the holiday season as a time to venerate the birth of Jesus, and 2) to insert Christian symbolism into the pagan festivities and traditions associated with these two events. One of these symbols was the wreath.

The Saturnalia was a winter holiday celebrated in honor of Saturn. Saturn, being a Roman god associated with agrarian productivity, was honored through the making of wreaths. For the Roman who felt that he or she was in a co-dependent, albeit joyful, relationship with the god of agricultural fertility and bounty, the ring-like wreath of grain and bough became a wonderful symbol of this connection.

It was an easy mutation for Constantine to associate this ring as a symbol of homage to Jesus and his creative power and bounty. Indeed, the wreath, according to Constantine and his contemporaries, could also be perceived as a respectful reproduction of the crown of thorns forcibly pressed over the head of Jesus during the process of crucifixion. Interestingly, legends had already sprung up during the age of Constantine that Holly and Mistletoe had been used in the formation of the famous, and likely painful, crown fashioned in mockery of Jesus Christ’s claim to kingship. Indeed, Holly and Mistletoe were sought after in Rome to be used in the fashioning of the newly-made Christian wreaths.

In Christian Rome, the people maintained their custom of making wreaths during the Christmas holiday; however, rather than a veneration of Saturn, these wreaths became symbols of bounty and sacrifice within the Christian tradition. Fantastically, the practice of decorating with wreaths continues on even during our own times.

Historical significance and symbolism aside, wreaths, simply put, are fantastic decoration pieces during the holiday season. Come down and join us this Saturday, November 24th, at 10:00am and 1:00pm or Saturday, December 1st, at 10:00am and 1:00pm to make your own wreaths and spice up your Christmas décor this Holiday season.