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Red and green have come to be known as the colors of Christmas but have you ever wondered how these two hues came to represent our most celebrated holiday? There are many conflicting stories but here are a few of my favorites that dispel some of the most common misconceptions of why we decorate with red and green.
To put us in the spirit of the season I’ve included some pictures of churches from our archives and a few tips on using red and green to decorate your home’s exterior for Christmas together with images from our friends at Better Homes and Gardens.
The subtle arrangement of red and green is perfect for a natural setting as is seen surrounding this church in Sundance, WY (Bellaforté Shake – Verona Blend)
Did you think the color connection began with the shiny green leaves and bright red berries of a sprig of holly? Since holly retains its color when temperatures plummet it’s a good thought but holly isn’t why we link red and green to Christmas.
Long before sprigs of holly were used to celebrate the birth of Christ, mistletoe was used to decorate. As far back as two hundred years B.C. mistletoe was used by the Druids to celebrate the coming of winter. When Christians began using mistletoe as Christmas decoration, church fathers suggested that sprigs of holly would be a more appropriate adornment and holly replaced mistletoe as a symbol of Christmas.
Bright red winter berry branches, greenery and metallic orbs stand up to the stately style of St. Clements Church (Bellaforté Slate – Slate Gray)
Did you think that the tradition of red and green began with the poinsettia plant? Many people do but that didn’t become a symbol of Christmas until much more recently.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico where its yellow flower surrounded by bright red leaves is symbolic of the star of Bethlehem. The plant, along with its Christmas symbolism, was first introduced to America in 1828 by America’s first ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett who the popular plant is named after. Poinsettias may be considered the flower of Christmas but they aren’t the reason we think red and green because by this time these colors were already a part of the holiday tradition.
Containers like this cast-iron urn holds an abundance of green branches and bright berry clusters, which can provide a colorful vertical element at the sides of each door. Just right for St. Patrick’s Church, Terre Haute, IN. (Bellaforté Slate – Verde blend)
For some, the beginning of the red and green tradition dates back to the 1300s when on each December 24th churches presented a Paradise Play depicting the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.
Since you can’t really have a story about Adam and Eve without an apple tree someone came up with the idea of fastening apples to the branches of a pine tree. The decorated tree that began as a prop for the Paradise play was so popular, especially in Germany, that churches began adding a tree donning red apples into their Christmas display and people began to put pine trees up in their homes. Decorating began with the red apples but other decorations were added and the Christmas tree was born.
Whatever the origins of our association, today these colors have come to symbolize the holiday and it just wouldn’t be the same without red and green. So go gather up the holly, mistletoe, lights and ribbon and get your homes ready to welcome in the all of the joy of the season with the colors of Christmas.
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