Support the Café
Search our site

On Wreaths

On Wreaths

This originally appeared as part of the Daily Sip, a website from Charles LaFond, a spiritual companion, author, potter and fundraiser who lives on the edge of the sea with his dog Kai. offering regular meditations and reflections on spirituality and church fundraising

 

Toward the end of the 16th century, a word was coined from the root word “wer” meaning to twist or bend from which the word “wreath” comes. It was a garland twisted around into a circle. Before a wreath was a wreath, the word had originally emerged from a series of Dutch and French words which had referred to anger. The twisted nature of being angry. The circular way of being angry. The serpent eating its own tail is one of the first “wreaths” in the human experience of art and form. One of my favorite definitions of anger is “a punishment we exact on ourselves for the mistakes of others.”

 

This wreath was made by a local artist here in Puget Sound. I found it on San Juan Island in a village called Friday Harbor, in a bar, and its elements spoke to me. The wreath incorporated elements of the beaches in these islands, filled as they are with driftwood, mosses, shells, old bones and still older stones.

We are soon to enter the season of “wreaths” in both ecclesial and social terms. Churches and many of their people will want to create the Advent Wreaths – that great countdown to Christmas – the enfleshment of God. But outside churches, regular people will be fashioning wreaths for their front doors.

 

There are two theories behind the origins of the wreath. One is that it was begun in Greece and Rome where wreaths were formed as head-dresses in order to show rank and occupation (The laurel wreath being one such example.) The second theory is that the wreath is a Christian re-invention indicating the circle of life and its symbolism of eternity.

 

As a small child, I have fond memories of Williamsburg at Christmas time. Nestled in Virginia, it was the nation’s first “Capitol” and to this day, celebrates the holidays with beautiful wreaths on the doors of 18th century homes and businesses as was their original custom along-side candles in windows – a custom I have retained in my home to this very day.

 

As we prepare for preparing for Christmas, wreaths will be an important aesthetic part of our preparations. Flat on a table with four or five candles, or hung on a door to celebrate life, the wreath will convey its message depending on the viewer’s point of view. But I admit to being intrigued by the word’s first meaning in anger and its first Celtic and Roman depictions – the serpent eating its own tail.

 

There is a lot of anger in the air. Anger about hopes unfulfilled abound at Christmas time. Anger in politics is reaching a fevered pitch. Anger in the Church about the next generations de-friending it is causing steam to scream out of the cracks in the ecclesial pressure-cooker of its current molting. And at Thanksgiving and Christmas, families will let anger infect seasonal joy with too much effort to get the holidays “right” – the resulting exhaustion, combined with alcohol and coffee will be its own relational train-wreck.

 

What if anger really is little more than “a punishment we exact on ourselves for the mistakes of others.” What if we could let go of the angers in our life, forgive the stupidity and carelessness of others’ past mistakes and choose peace on this earth?

Dislike (1)
Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

newest oldest
Notify of
Simon Burris
Guest
Simon Burris

This essay begins with a couple of factual errors that demand correction.

First, the noun "wreath" is attested at least to ca A.D. 1000 (OE "writhan") in Aelfric's "Saints' Lives" xxiii. (That is the very first citation in the OED entry.).

Second, modern "wreath" is not etymologically related to "wrath," which comes from a root "wraethu" with a lengthened vowel elsewhere realized as "o" as in "wroth."

In addition, it must be pointed out that the original Christian significance of "wreath" has nothing to do with circularity; instead Saint Paul is quite naturally drawing up the pagan image of the head-wreath used both as a sign of victory and as an indication of participation in the blessed life of the gods (the instances of such usage in Classical Greek vase painting are so numerous as to approach omnipresence).

Like (1)
Dislike (0)
Facebooktwitterrss
Support the Café
Past Posts
2019_001B
2019_004

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café