Moving on from the poppy wreaths that characterise our Remembrance Sunday, and the fantastic effort put in by teams this year up and down the country to decorate our country and celebrate the Centenary of the Great War. Truly this has been a tribute to all the fallen and Great Britain as a land for heroes. Now we move to less poignant festivals such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We enhance these occasions with wreaths and other garlands, and these decorations have a more ancient lineage and depth of meaning than it might at first appear. Not only are they ornamental and pretty, but they also have an historical and spiritual significance.
A wreath is described as an arrangement of foliage and/or flowers which is traditionally used for festivals, graves, celebrations of a private or public capacity, and generally hatches, matches and dispatches. The word is derived from the Old English and is related to the word to writhe – referring to the curling or curving mass or formation of the circular shape. This type of floral art includes garlands, chaplets, the diadem and the tiara, and even Crowns in their bejewelled interpretation of the symbolism of the circle.
Symbolism lies at the heart of our deployment of wreaths and garlands:
- The foliage is generally evergreen signifying strength and fortitude and everlasting life.
- The practice goes back to pagan times when the ancients used olive, or oak, or laurel leaves to celebrate high achievement
- In Greek myth Apollo pursued the nymph Daphne so relentlessly she begged for help from the River God Perseus. For reasons I have never understood he apparently turned her into a Laurel bush and from then on Apollo sported a laurel wreath.
- Wreaths came to be associated with Apollonian values of Victory, achievement and status. A practice that we continue to this day in November and December particularly.
- Laurel and Oak were used to crown the athletes at the original Olympics where the Winner was crowned with Olive Leaves.
- European Harvest Wreaths are derived from the adornment of the festivals devoted to Dionysus, the god of the harvest.
What is clear is that we humans, in common with the Bower Bird, have traditionally delighted in using foliage and flowers in a specific and focused way to add nature’s beauty and bounty to our Commemorations and Celebrations. When we celebrate Christmas with the wreath, we are of course celebrating the birth of Jesus and the possibility of everlasting life. The life of Jesus ended with the cruellest circlet ever, the Crown of Thorns. In the Bower Bird’s case he is seeking a successful outcome to his floral courtship!
Meantime here are a few ideas for Thanksgiving: the traditional thanksgiving wreath is generally more autumnal in its foliage and flowers choices though red is not unknown.
Pumpkins and autumnal leaves are particular favourites, and many also use wheat or corn stalks. Here, I have made a flowery interpretation of an autumnal wreath with berries, leaves and late roses. I have added tiny gourds uplifted from the village shop for a princely 5p each in the time honoured rural tradition of scrumping (nearly).
Next week the Christmas Wreath and a “how to make a wreath” post.