The drive to the Christmas tree farm, watching our chosen fir being felled, the frustration of Christmas tree lights not working as Strictly waltzes away on the telly… And the annual attempt at making a wreath. Where did this tradition come from and why do we continue to adopt it in modern times?
Throughout many different cultures, the wreath has been used as a decorative personal item (a headdress) and also to decorate homes and buildings for the winter season and festivities.
The word ‘wreath’ is derived from an old English word meaning to twist, such as in a circle. However it may be that wreaths were hung on doors in Ancient Rome to represent battle victories. So, our Christmas wreath’s circular structure may originate from the wreaths or “coronas” (crowns) that ancient Romans wore on their heads during festivals and to honour warriors after going into arduous battles. In Christianity, the Christmas wreath was used to symbolise Jesus Christ; the circular shape having no beginning or end represents eternity.
These days they’re a symbol of tradition, of continuity, a way of marking the end of one year and the beginning of another and a way of bringing the natural world – a hint of the forest – into our lives even in cities and suburbia.
There’s great fun to be had making your own decorations so if you haven’t already purchased a wreath for your front door, here’s my easy ‘how to’ guide.
First, go and forage in your garden – you’ll be surprised how much suitable material is there. You’re looking for evergreens for your base, so that could be plucked from the leylandii hedge, holly bush or branches from a pine tree. Other suitable candidates are Sarcococca, ivy, moss, skimmia, rosemary, bay laurels and viburnum. When you are gathering material, it is a good idea to condition it first – steep it in a bucket of water after cutting for a few hours so the cuttings will remain fresher for longer.
Next you are looking for some decorative materials – this could be berries, pine cones or interesting seed heads such as poppies, teasels, eryngiums and globe thistles. Dried hydrangea flowers look glamorous sprayed in gold and this year I’m eyeing up the large agapanthus heads with their spiky globe shapes. Fatsia flower heads could make pretty silvery baubles and you could also gather fluffy material such as miscanthus flowers and old man’s beard (clematis vitalba).
If you’re going for the classic traditional wreath, you will need either a circular florist’s ring, or failing that you can twist a wire coat hanger into a circular shape. (If doing this, you can cut off the handle as you will be using ribbon to hang the wreath). Bulk up your circular shape with green foliage you’ve gathered. Using florist’s wire, wind tightly around the foliage to secure it to the wire base. Make sure to overlap each piece so you will have a continuous circle when you are finished.
You can also make simple curved wreaths from bending pliable stems into hoops and finishing with a red bow – if you’ve any red or green cornus or some orangey willow, they will do the trick nicely.
Now add your decorative bits – these can be foraged or little trinkets that you have collected such as cinnamon sticks, small ornaments and artificial berries. Pine cones are easily transformed with gold spray, or use some sticky glitter to bling them up. Evenly spread your decorations to highlight the circular nature of the wreath.
Finally tie some red ribbon to hang the wreath from your door and admire your handiwork.
If you want to be bang on trend, incorporating succulents such as echeverias will give your wreath a contemporary look.
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