The Wreaths That Keep On Giving : After Christmas, Some Decorations Make Good Snacks

THE WASHINGTON POST

Deck the halls with boughs of eucalyptus. 'Tis the season for gilded pomegranates, chili-pepper decorations, edible apple wreaths and French tapestry ribbons.

Whatever happened to holly and mistletoe? Evergreen wreaths with red bows? Nutcrackers?

Fear not, they're still around. Yuletide decorating traditions have proved as enduring as plum pudding and brandied sauce. Yet in a world in which the Christmas goose may be a microwaved turkey, wreaths are also changing, becoming less conventional, more individual.

Although seasonal foliage embellished with red berries and pine cones weathers very well, newer creations, in colors like burgundy or topaz, garnished with air- and freeze-dried fruits and flowers, are gaining converts.

Much in evidence in catalogues this season are wreaths made of pomegranates and pepper berries, magnolia leaves and roses. Magazines feature wreaths of unusual ingredients (dried cockscomb), forms (horseshoes) and uses, (centerpieces and curtain tiebacks). Craft stores are stocked with ready-to-stuff bases made of grapevine and novelties like French tapestry ribbons stiffened with wire.

The Christmas wreath has a long lineage. Derived from the same Old English root as the modern word writhe, wreath means a twisted band or ring of flowers or leaves. Its origins and ceremonial uses are rooted in ancient history, according to Rob Pulleyn, author of "The Wreath Book."

The Greeks called it a diadem; the Romans, who crowned victorious athletes and Caesars with laurel wreaths, called it a corona. The crown caught on with medieval European kings, who replaced leaves with diamonds.

Their subjects adopted the habit of wearing botanical headdresses to celebrate religious holidays. (The circular form symbolizing eternity is to this day used in funeral wreaths.) How and when the wreath moved from the head to the wall is unknown.

It may have been that greenery symbolizing sylvan spirits was taken indoors to protect the little woodland creatures from the cold. Pulleyn theorizes there is a more mundane explanation akin to hanging one's headdress on a hat rack.

Be that as it may, the decorative Christmas wreath had become entrenched in English custom by the Victorian era.

'Tis the season to be jolly. From supermarket parking lots, where an unadorned circle of evergreen can be purchased for $10 and trimmed with a red bow brought down from attic, to the enticing pages of mail-order catalogues, the holiday spirit abounds.

Gardeners Eden of San Francisco, for example, offers a moss-covered straw base stuffed with pomegranates, pine cones, cedar roses, dried slices of apples, nuts and pods, eucalyptus buttons and cinnamon sticks. An 18-inch wreath costs $85.

Very popular this year, this classic type is called the "Renaissance" or "Della Robbia" wreath. It is named after the 16th-Century Florentine artist Andrea Della Robbia, known for his polychrome reliefs of fruits. Wreaths by that name should exude a similar richness of plump-to-bursting Nature.

For people willing to invest more time than money, craft stores offer an increasingly varied selection of materials from which to create high-fashion wreaths.

Also in the offing are freeze-dried fruit and vegetable decorations.

As for colors, white is a comer. "We think white will be popular," says Ruth M. Owades, president of Calyx & Corolla. "It's a color created for decorating but hard to execute, since there are so few white flowers."

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