This is a guest post by Megan White, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library.
Wreaths have a long history. They were worn as headpieces as far back as ancient Egypt. The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress is filled with Roman-inspired wreaths, most commonly made of laurel, olive, and oak, representing victory, peace, and strength.
Wreaths tied to many winter holidays are made out of evergreen boughs. As plants that stay green all year, they once symbolized immortality and a reminder that, after the Winter Solstice, we are moving towards longer, warmer, more bountiful days. Today, winter wreaths generally represent welcome and a moment of joy in the darkness. Maybe this year both the ancient and modern meanings are relevant as people seek comfort, reassurance, and hope for a fresh start next spring.
You and your family can make your own wreaths with evergreen materials or any other natural materials that suits you. A few images from our prints and photographs collection to use for inspiration are included below:
- Preparing Christmas Greens–Making Wreaths, Harper’s Weekly, 1880
- Santa Claus’s Face in the Middle of a Christmas Wreath, 1896
- Skeleton Leaves, 1873
Once you have some ideas about what kind of wreath you’d like to make, it’s time to head outside and find your materials. Look for pine, spruce, or holly boughs to form the bulk of your wreath, and look for other materials like berries, pinecones, acorns, and dried grasses or seed pods to add as accents. You can challenge children to find as many different greens as possible, or to find ten pine cones, or five different seed pods. It can also be fun to simply see what children are drawn to. Callicarpa grow in the Washington, D.C. area and have bright purple berries in fall and winter that often catch children’s attention.
If you can find them, grape vines, honeysuckle, or thin willow branches can make a base for your wreath, or purchase a plain vine wreath from your local craft or hardware store. You will also need floral wire or any other thin wire and heavy scissors or wire cutters.
Once you’ve collected all your materials and you’re ready to work, lay down some newspapers to protect your workspace from sap, and cut a set of vines and an equal number of small pieces of wire.
Base (note that if you bought a vine base for your wreath, you’re all set!)
- Join the two ends of your first vine together to make a loop. Secure with a small piece of wire. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided.
- Loosely wrap a second piece of vine around the first one. Secure the end with a second piece of wire.
- Continue until you’ve used all your vine clippings. Adjust slightly if necessary, but imperfection can be lovely.
- Have your children choose several greens and form them into a small bouquet.
- Hold your mini-greens-bouquet against the base of your wreath and attach it by wrapping wire around the bundle of stems and through the wreath twice, pulling tightly each time. Tuck the ends of the wire into the wreath. Older children can do this on their own. Younger children can guide you, showing you where they would like to attach the greens.
- Gather another bunch of greens and attach it so the ends of the greens cover the stems of the first bouquet.
- Continue until the base of your wreath is covered, tucking the stems of the last bouquet under the greens of the very first one you attached.
- Don’t have enough greens to go all the way around? No problem! You now have a cool, modern, asymmetrical wreath!
- Work together to decide what decorations should go where and secure them to the wreath with wire. Maybe you tuck pinecones throughout the wreath. Maybe you add berries with the pinecones. Or maybe you stick with simple greens. It’s up to you!
- Cut a piece of wire and loop it through a vine on the back of the wreath. Twist the ends of the wire together. Now you can hang your wreath.
Now that your wreath is complete, take a break with some seasonal reading:
- Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World, by Heather Conrad (Lightport Books, 2013)
- The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper (Candlewick, 2019)
- The Return of the Light, Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice, by Carolyn Edwards (Da Capo Press, 2005)
- Charles Dickens’s Children Stories—the Library’s digitized copy is available here.
You can also discuss the science of the seasons with this post on the Library’s Everyday Mysteries page.