Why Do We Hang Wreaths at Christmas? The History of the Tradition

Wreaths are festive front-door décor—here's how they became a Christmas tradition.

Person hanging Christmas wreath
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As soon as Thanksgiving ends, it can feel as if every single door and window across the country is suddenly adorned with a Christmas wreath overnight. Often featuring cranberries, pine cones, or big red bows, wreaths have long been a staple of the holiday season. And, as is the case with other holiday traditions, there's a deep history behind why we hang wreaths at Christmas.

As Time reported in 2018, ancient Greeks and Romans viewed wreaths as a mark of victory and power—and this was long before Christmas ever even existed. It wasn't until over a millennium later that wreaths would become an essential element of Christmas décor, thanks to another key piece of holiday greenery: the Christmas tree.

The tradition of bringing evergreen trees into your home at Christmastime began in 16th-century Germany, according to History.com. And these firs set the stage for wreaths to become an ingrained part of Christmas, thanks to the care taken to perfect the shape of each tree. "Limbs were often cut off in an attempt to make the tree more uniform in shape or to fit into a room," Ace Collins wrote in his 2003 book, Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Collins explained to Time that due to the cultural mindset at the time that everything should be fully used and not wasted, wreaths were created from the excess limbs and branches.

Wreaths also originally carried various religious overtones, too. The New York Times reports that this excess greenery was wound into circles specifically as a way to symbolize both the idea of perfection and unity, as well as the power of the sun. As wreaths began to tie more heavily into Christmas, Christians viewed them as a symbol of remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. For religious wreath hangers, holly and cranberries were essential to the design, using the former's sharp leaves to represent Christ's thorny crown often depicted during his execution, and the latter as a symbol of his blood.

Christians also believed that a wreath's positioning on a door or window was especially important, seeing it as a kind of invitation of sorts for the holy spirit to enter their homes, The New York Times explains. The evergreens used to form the wreaths symbolize eternal life as a strong and resilient being who can survive even in harsh winter weather. And candles have often been placed on wreaths during Advent as a remembrance of the light that members of the Christian faith believe Jesus provided.

Of course, for others, wreaths are simply a decoration to invite some holiday cheer. And while evergreens are still often used, wreaths are now made of all sorts of materials, and come in a variety of designs, colors, and sizes. So, whether you choose to hang a wreath for religious reasons or for décor, knowing the history behind the custom makes it all the more interesting. Plus, now you have a great topic of conversation for your next holiday party!

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