A Celebration of Red and Green
‘Tis the season to start decorating and as I was stringing the garland around the front door and adding the finishing touches to the display with a red bow, I started to wonder where or when did Christmas colors become red and green. So as people do these days, I turned and asked the internet. There were thousands of responses (actually, over 408,000,000) and believe it or not, very little variety to the answers.
From what most people have written, there really isn’t one firm answer. Centuries ago, Celtic people believed that holly plants were beautiful and brought good fortune. They were prized for the fact that they didn’t lose their leaves during the winter months and warded off evil spirits. So, when it came to celebrating the winter solstice, many people brought the holly inside as decorations. Over time, it became a tradition of decorating with red and green in general at this time of year.
From the religious side of the holiday, Christians decorated with holly, most likely because of the winter solstice traditions. They believe that the berries represent Jesus’ blood while the leaves represent his crown of thorns. In the 14th century, Christians acted out Paradise Plays on Christmas Eve, telling the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. In the play, they were unable to use an apple tree as a prop since it was winter and the apple trees were bare. Instead, they used an evergreen tree and hung apples on it.
More recently, good old commercialism has come in and made its mark. In the 1930’s Coca Cola hired artist Haddon Sundblom to create an updated version of Santa Claus. Up to this point, Santa was usually depicted as a thinner man wearing brown or dark red robes. Sundblom painted a round, rosy man dressed in the bright red clothing that matched Coca Cola’s signature color. He also paired Santa with a green background or some kind of greenery in his paintings. Sundblom updated his advertisements for Coca Cola every year from 1931 to 1964. Without a doubt, Sundblom’s depiction of Santa changed forever how we picture Santa Claus.
We have our share of red and green on the website this time of year too. From green and red stocking ornaments and origami trees to peppermint coasters. Our real pièce de resistance is the Celebration Christmas Runner, a true heirloom quality weaving that brings the warmth of Guatemala to the holiday table. It’s one of many examples of the collaboration between our U.S. designer Robin Grunder, and the backstrap weavers in Cajolá. Inspired by the embroidery of the Nautical Celebration Runner that reminded her of snowflakes, Robin wanted to make a runner for the holidays. She started with traditional green and red yarns and then added additional shades of green to give it the playfulness that you see in Guatemalan designs. “I knew that I wanted to warp it in red so that the red stripes would give the pure red color, while the green stripes just get richer, especially the emerald green which can look very generic when not mixed.” When the weavers returned the first sample, she loved how they distributed the colors symmetrically rather than a straight repeat. Robin enjoys selecting colors for the weavers and then seeing how they implement the patterns.
So, this season, as I look around at all the greens and the reds, I have a little more understanding about the history of this tradition. Now it just leaves me wondering if it was no accident that red and green are on the opposite sides of the color wheel, the perfect complementary pair!