December and the Circle of Life
Circles and spheres have been associated through the ages with eternity – as they have no beginning and no end. Wreaths, especially, have come to represent this concept, and are used in a variety of ways, from victory crowns to funeral adornments to symbols of the holiday season.
Wreath Workshop at the Green Woman's Garden
It is believed that “wreath” comes from the Middle English word wrethe. However, the idea of a circlet of greens or herbs reaches a much more ancient connection, back as far as the Etruscans 400 years before Christ. Jewelry, modeled of leaves in the shape of a circle have been found dating from that early civilization. This idea was later adopted by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and found life in the myth of Apollo and Daphne. Apollo desired Daphne, but she was bewitched and did not wish to succumb to his advances. Her pleas to the gods resulted in her being turned into a bay laurel tree. In his sorrow, Apollo fashioned a wreath of the leaves and wore it to keep her close to him. This later became a symbol of victory and was worn by soldiers, emperors, and winners of marathons and other sporting events.
In some cultures, particularly Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine, a wreath at harvest time is woven from straw or other grains and used as a protection against crop failures for the coming year. Again, the idea of the year being a circular, rather than linear, event is an ancient theme, with one season flowing into the next and repeating over and over. The fruit of the harvest season gives way to the hunger of winter, and weaving a wreath ensures that there is no end, just a continual pattern in the circle of the year.
The pre-Christian offering of a lighted wreath was an attempt to urge the god of light to turn the wheel of the earth back to the sun. The long days of winter would once again slowly increase in length, bringing back warmth and the season for growing. Christianity later embraced the concept of a wreath made of evergreens, as a symbol of the light of the world and the Christ Child bringing everlasting life.
Many of us like to create Advent wreaths to light up the weeks before Christmas. Evergreens, as symbols of eternal life, are necessary to form the base. Juniper denotes life and hope; boxwood, long life; balsam is the perfect blend of faith, hope and charity. Besides evergreens, herbs can be used to denote symbolic sentiments. The following are often used in holiday wreaths, as the meanings are in keeping with the spirit of the season.
Lavender – Purity
Sage – Immortality
Horehound – Good health
Rue – Banishes evil
Thyme – Bravery
Rosemary – Remembrance
If you begin with a base of sphagnum moss, you can keep your wreath moist and fresh throughout the holiday season. Use a round, shallow tray, and insert your cuttings directly into the moss. Cuttings of herbs, if you have them, often will root and then can be re-planted in the spring. Mist daily and keep in a cool room. Enjoy your circle of life, and rejoice in the returning light.