December 8, 2015 Alchemist Studios

The Colours of Christmas

frosty leaf

Christmas is associated with many colours however the most dominant are Red, Green and Gold. At Alchemist we are very aware of the association of certain colours to a wide variety of emotions (red = love), cultural influences (gold = wealth) and social perceptions (green = environmentally conscious). As Christmas draws near we thought we would share a few of our favourite stories about how Red, Green and Gold became the Colours of Christmas. .

Red: Santa, Apples, Robins and Berries

There is a myth that Santa Claus became red as a result of the Coca-Cola advertisements, however this is far from true. The story of Father Christmas is based on that of Saint Nicholas, who was a 4th Century Greek bishop, as such he wore a red cassock. Bishop Nicolas had a reputation for secret gift-giving. People had to take off their shoes before they entered the church. Nicholas would put coins into the shoes of poor children who left them on the shelves outside the church during Advent (the lead up to Christmas).  In Holland, children leave clogs by the door, whereas we leave stockings by the fireplace.

During the middle ages, Christmas plays were performed in the run up to Christmas. The most popular was the Paradise Plays, which were the stories of Adam and Eve. They used Pine Trees with red apples on them although the bible never actually calls the forbidden fruit an Apple. Even then the colour Red was associated with both passion and danger.

In addition to this, the first Christmas cards had pictures of Robins delivering gifts or messages. Although Robins actually have orange chests, there was no word for Orange until the 18th Century, so the Robins were painted with decidedly red chests. The Robins was a nick name given to the postmen in Victorian times, who of course wore a red uniform.

Green – Holly, Mistletoe and Christmas Trees

“Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly” is a traditional Christmas song which was written in 1877, although the tune it was sung to was actually written in the 1700s. Green is one of the few colours which survive in nature during the long winter months. The idea of holly being associated with this time of year is actually a Roman tradition, which celebrated Saturnalia – a December festival that honoured the god Saturn.  During the Saturnalia festival, holly wreaths were given as gifts.

During Roman times it was thought that Christ was actually born during the spring rather than December.  The 4th Century Catholic Church in Rome moved this birthday in order to have 2 festivals, Christmas and Easter. They chose Christmas on December 25th in order to outdo the Saturnalia festivities, and the Jewish Passover.

I love mistletoe.  About two hundred years before the birth of Christ, mistletoe was used by the Druids to celebrate the coming of winter in Pagan Britain.  Then, as now, it was hung over the door of dwellings and people could steal a kiss. The Church were not happy about all this public displays of affection, so they decided to replace mistletoe with holly as the traditional Christmas floral arrangement.  I’m guessing they didn’t succeed as we still have sprigs of it 2000 years later!

We all know that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is said to be responsible for the arrival of the Christmas tree to Britain.  In the days before vacuum cleaners and household cleaning products, people used to freshen up their houses by putting fragrant plants in them.  During the winter months the evergreen pines gave homes a wonderful fresh scent.

christmas decorations

Gold: Stars, Angels and Royal Gifts

The gold association is more directly from the bible.  It reflects the gift of Gold given the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. Often depicted as Kings in children’s nativity plays, they are actually referred to as Magi, the learned spiritual leaders of the time. We really don’t know the names of the magi because the Bible doesn’t tell us. In fact, the Bible is silent on how many wise men visited Jesus. However, tradition has it that The Three Wise Men who came to seek and honour the infant Jesus were named Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The Wise men followed a gold star, and the Angels are always depicted as being golden, or having golden wings.  The halo above the holy family was always painted in gold leaf too.

So now when someone says that Santa was red because of Coca-Cola, or talks about The Three Kings or Holly being a Christmas traditions, you can set them straight.

Merry Christmas everybody!

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