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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Origin of the Christmas Colors

Like so many other traditions, the exact origins of red and green as the colors of Christmas are lost in time. Despite a variety of theories, it is clear the tradition didn’t evolve as part of the Christian religion, but can be traced to the ancient Celtic peoples who commemorated different holidays, usually related to the change of seasons, with different colors.
They venerated the green holly with red berries for being evergreen during the cold winter and believed the plant was meant to keep the world beautiful even in the winter. Decorating their homes with holly for the winter solstice celebrations was believed to protect them and bring good luck in the coming year. Celtic peoples as well as many other pagan religions celebrated winter with evergreens.
Even the Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia celebrated in the season that is now Christmas time.
Most Christians understand that Christ was not born on the day we now call December 25th. The scriptures don’t identify the season although there are indicators that He may have been born in the spring time because Luke references sheep grazing in the fields, which only happened in warmer months.
The birth of Jesus was not celebrated until the fourth century AD. In that era, the Roman scholar Hippolytus projected the birth of Christ at a time of year near the winter solstice. The first recorded commemoration of Christmas was 336 AD in the time of Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor, and was used as a way to discourage Christians from participating in pagan winter solstice rites.
During the Middle Ages, after the fall of Rome, not many people celebrated Christmas. However, during this period many Celtic and other pagan traditions and celebrations were subsumed by Christian beliefs and practices.
After a month of fasting (Advent) and preparation, the Christmas festivities lasted for 12 days, from Christmas to January 6 (Epiphany). Replicating the pagan traditions, “inversions of order occurred across medieval society around Christmas. One of the most colorful was the election of a boy bishop, who presided over processions and church ritual on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December).
Regardless of the origins, each of the colors has accumulated traditional beliefs which still hang around today.
Green signifies life - Plants are green because they depend on chlorophyll for life. Thus, to many societies the color green symbolizes life, fertility, and the rebirth of life after winter. About two hundred years before the birth of Christ mistletoe was used by the Druids to celebrate the coming of winter. Green is an ancient reminder that winter doesn’t last forever.
● Christian belief - The color green is a natural representation of eternal life, specifically the evergreen tree and how it survives through the winter season. That’s why, in Christian belief, green represents the eternal life that Jesus Christ offers.
Green in the Middle Ages – During this period, green represented love and fertility, and brides often wore green on their wedding day. Pagan Wedding Dress                                              
Paradise or Miracle Plays of the 14th century – On Christmas eve these plays were performed to teach Bible stories to people who couldn’t read -- the vast majority. The tradition was to present the Paradise Play, the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. The Paradise Tree within the garden was normally a pine tree with red apples tied to it. That inspired people to decorate their homes with evergreen bows and decorating with red apples.

McMillian Education Poster – Painting by unknown 20th century artist of a Miracle Play
Red Berries signify fertility and new life – Holly is one of the plants that remains green during the winter and it happens to have red barriers. Berries, because they carry the seeds for new plants, could be symbolic of fertility and new life. Mistletoe has green berries. Go figure.
● Christian belief - The color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus that he shed to save mankind.
Paradise or Miracle Plays of the 14th century – The association of red with these play comes from the story of the apple tree and the apples tied to the evergreen.
● Red is also the color of Bishops robes. St. Nicholas, as a bishop, would have worn red. It is a possible connection to the Santa Claus uniform.
Coca-Cola started using a Santa image in its advertising in 1931. Later, when they hired artist Haddon Sundblom to draw their Santa Claus ads, his image of the jolly elf bestowed on Santa Claus by western culture became that created by Coca-Cola.
The first Coca-Cola Santa advertisement – 1931

There are many more colors associated with Christmas time and used during the holidays. You’re not stuck with Red and Green. 


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