A wreath is an assortment of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs and/or various materials that is constructed to resemble a ring. They are used typically as Christmas decorations to symbolize the coming of Christ, also known as the Advent season in Christianity. They are also used as festive headdresses as attire in ceremonial events in many cultures around the globe. Wreaths have much history and symbolism associated with them. They are usually made from evergreens and symbolize strength, as evergreens last even throughout the harshest winters. Bay laurel may also be used, and these wreaths are known as laurel wreaths. The circular shape of the wreath is seen as a common symbol of eternity. The use of wreaths varies by culture, tradition and religions. In Christianity, it is used to prepare for Jesus’ birth and in many cultures around the world, wreaths are used in weddings as a headdress. The history behind wreaths dates back thousands of years and much of the symbolism lies with Greek mythology, Roman tradition with the present day usage being focused on Advent and for festive decor.
In the Greco-Roman world, wreaths were used as an adornment that could represent a person’s occupation, rank, their achievements and status. The wreath that was commonly used was the laurel wreath. The use of this wreath arose from the Greek myth involving Apollo, Zeus’ son and the god of life and light, who fell in love with the nymph Daphne. When he pursued her she fled and asked the river god Peneus to help her, in which Peneus turned her into a laurel tree. From that day forth, Apollo wore a wreath of laurel on his head. This became associated with what Apollo embodied; victory, achievement and status and would later become one of the most commonly used symbols to address achievement throughout Greece and Rome.
The laurel wreath was also used to crown victors at the Pythian games dating back to the 6th century BCE and was later used in the Olympics as well. In present day society, the use of the laurel wreath is still honoured as to follow tradition. Olympic medals today are designed with a sprig of laurel engraved to pay homage to the first Olympic games. A more recent example is the coins minted for the 2004 games that were help in Athens, Greece. They featured an olive wreath on them, as well as the victors were crowned with an actual laurel wreath.
The Romans use of laurel wreaths echo the Greek traditions. The wreath was a symbol in the arts, literature, government and education in Roman society. In the arts, it expressed that one was valued and respected with a laurel wreath resting atop one’s head. Ovid, the famous Roman poet, is almost always depicted with laurel in his hair. Kings in both Greece and Rome dawned the laurel wreath to illustrate sovereignty. Julius Caesar for example, proclaimed the laurel wreath "to be a symbol of the supreme ruler." The wreaths worn by kings were reminiscent of the traditional laurel wreath by the shape and its connotation yet were embellished with gold and gems. This eventually led to the modern day crown.
Since the classical use and symbolism if wreaths, the meaning and representation has taken on differing views, depending on the culture. In Christianity, wreaths are used to prepare for the Advent season or the ‘coming of Christ. The first known association with these now modern day wreaths dates back to the Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century. Johann Wichem used a wreath made from a cart wheel to educate children about the meaning and purpose of Christmas, as well as to help them count its approach. For every Sunday of Advent, starting with the fourth Sunday before Christmas, he would put a white candle in the wreath and for every day in between he would use a red candle. The Advent wreath is constructed of evergreens to represent everlasting life brought through Jesus and the circular shape of the wreath represents God himself, with no beginning and no end. The Advent wreath is now a popular symbol in preparation for the coming of Christ, to mark the beginning of the Christian Church’s year and as décor during the Christmas festivities.
Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wreath
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