Sunday, December 1, 2013

"In a drear-nighted December...Too happy, happy tree...

thy branches ne'er remember...Their green felicity."  ~John Keats


But, we do revel in the green of pine trees this time of year...and out come red and green...the color uniform of Christmas. 
But, when did those colors become the standard?  Why not blue and silver? Or white and gold?  Sure, you can use those colors, but the traditionalists will raise eyebrows not drinks to your color choices.
In doing some research, I discovered the Italians were our closet Christmas color designers.  In AD 274, Roman Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25 as natalis solis invicti ("birth of the invincible sun"), a festival honoring the sun god Mithras known as Saturnalia. It had been celebrated by Pagans for centuries, but the emperor moved it to this date to correspond with the winter solstice.
Holly wreaths were given to celebrate this festival which actually featured much gift-giving as well as much celebrating with drink, food, and greenery. 
Mistletoe, also in green, which dates to the Druids as well as the Romans, was hung in homes to bring good fortune peace and love.  It is actually a parasitic plant that needs a host...I know there is a joke there at this time of the year, but I will not go there!
As Christianity took over in the 4th century, the church elders selected December 25 after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire's favored religion. Eastern churches, however, held on to January 6 as the date for Christ's birth and his baptism.

When Pope Gregory devised a new calendar, which was unevenly adopted, the Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants retained the Julian calendar, which meant they celebrated Christmas 13 days later than their Gregorian counterparts. Most—but not all—of the Christian world now agrees on the Gregorian calendar and the December 25 date.

The Christian connection to red in this green world relates to a story that only the holly tree consented to be cut down and its wood made into a cross to bear Jesus. Some Christians believe that Jesus wore a crown of holly thorns whose berries were originally white. As Jesus’ blood touched the berries, they turned red. The green leaves of the holly plant have come to represent everlasting life and the berries the blood of Jesus.
But, back to the pine tree...and some more red symbols...medieval Christians celebrated Adam and Eve’s feast day with a kind of mystery play referred to as the paradise play. This folk drama retold the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It ended with the promise of the coming of a savior who would reconcile humanity with God.


Staged around a single prop called a paradise tree, actors adorned an evergreen tree with apples and sometimes also with communion wafers. Decked out in this way it served to represent the two mystical trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Although the church officially banned the performance of mystery plays in the fifteenth century, the people of France and Germany's Rhine river region kept on decorating paradise trees for Christmas, so perhaps another insight into that green Christmas tree and red accents.

So, red and green for Christmas have a myriad of historical references, but it all blends...for as John Geddes wrote in A Familiar Rain...

“...freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin - inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night...” 

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