Like most of our Christmas traditions, the evergreen wreath has a long history that dates back to very early times. In Greece a wreath of greenery was awarded to a champion athlete as a prize. And in the colder European climates, evergreen branches were used to decorate the inside of houses to brighten up the long dark winters and remind people that the spring would soon be with them. So it became a sign of hope for the future, so that it made homes feel beautiful, and carried a very special message too.
In early Christian days the evergreen leaves were a sign of everlasting life and the triangular shape of a fir tree was a symbol of the trinity, the three aspects of God. Evergreen trees, the ones that we think of as Christmas trees in particular, were brought into homes in the heart of winter at this period too. It is thought that these trees were trimmed into neat triangular shapes and the off cuttings were used in decoration around the home, because the people at this time couldn’t afford to waste a scrap of anything. Sometimes they were woven into circles along with ivy and holly. These were either hung on the Christmas tree to decorate it or decked around the house or put on the front door. The colours of rich green and bright red are still with us now as a big part of our Christmas traditions, and so is the front door wreath.
If you would like to have a go at making your own front door Christmas wreath it is easier than you think.
There are lots of places, even in our cities where we can forage for holly and ivy. Cut long trails of ivy. It is these that will form the circle of your wreath. Please take sharp scissors with you to cut what you need, and no more, as neatly as you can. Remember to take gloves with you too, holly is and uncomfortably prickly thing.
Decide how big you want your wreath to be. Holding the widest and thickest end of your ivy ‘twigs’ make the size of circle that you want by making a circle of it ending in the hand that is grasping the end of the twig. Then wrap/coil the rest of the length of the twig around and around the loop of the circle. This should make the wreath shape hold onto itself. The more ivy you twist around the circle the stronger and thicker it will be.
(Some of you may have made willow crowns with us at Mudchute before lockdown. The idea is exactly the same.)
At this point you an start weaving in the holly so that the berries show from the front, you can wrap in some pine branches too, and ribbons and battery operated fairy lights, tinsel, whatever you like really. If you want to use things like pine cones or Christmas baubles you will have to tie them on with string or wire. The same goes for making a loop to hang the wreath from your front door, or you could use a big fancy ribbon.
You can make these for little or no money, and the more of them you make, the better the results will be, honestly! They might make nice gifts for friends and neighbours, seriously, you will get that good at making them if you try.
The idea that this traditional decoration came out of frugal ways of living, when everyone made their own beautiful things for their homes at Christmas is lovely. If this strange old year has taught us anything, it is that we can do amazing things, and value time, and each other. This wreath is another marker or tradition for the pattern of our lives that we can be proud to share with our children.