When we became homeowners for the first time, a friend celebrated this big step in our lives by giving us a small wreath. It was a simple circle made of twisted, dried, wild grapevines and tiny flowers she had picked in the local woods. I hung it on our living room wall, and it transformed the creaky, drafty, old house that we had just bought into a home that welcomed and embraced us.
I had always associated wreaths with Christmas. Many people in the West decorate their front doors with wreaths as winter approaches. There’s also the Advent wreath, a wreath that is laid horizontally on a flat surface rather than hung on a door or wall. It serves as a base for four or five candles that are lit one by one to count down the weeks until the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.
But then, I began to notice that wreaths have played a role in many seasons and on many occasions since past ages. Harvest-themed wreaths appear in home decoration catalogs every fall in many parts of the world. Wreaths of flowers are often placed on coffins and gravestones. Laurel wreaths have been used to crown victorious athletes and kings. Wreaths have become a popular form of shimekazari, the braided rope ornaments traditionally hung at the entrance of Japanese homes and businesses to welcome the new year.
Whereas the Christmas wreaths I have seen tend to be made of lush evergreen branches with a scattering of red berries or silver bells, Japanese New Year’s wreaths are typically twisted or braided from pale, grassy materials such as rice straw, reeds or stalks of Japanese pampas grass. Some are fancied up with strips of colored paper or fabric. These wreaths have a warm earthy feel to them that I like.
There is something comforting about the ring shape of wreaths. Japanese calligraphers can evoke a sunset, a sunrise, a full moon or an embrace by creating ensou circles with a single bold brush stroke. The circle can symbolize completeness, nothingness or eternal life, and it has always inspired artists.
But my interest in wreaths always comes back to the wreath my friend gave us on the day we bought our first home. The pleasure that wreath gave me is something I would like to see repeated in the homes and workplaces of the people I know and care about. Giving a wreath is kind of like giving a hug, and it lasts much longer. Wreath-making is on a growing list of skills that I want to master someday. Maybe I should make it my New Year’s resolution for 2019. (Deborah Davidson)