Ever wonder how red and green became our Christmas colors? Well, back in the day when I was writing A Heart’s Revolution (which includes Christmas in 1780), I paused to look it up, just to make sure my characters would have been celebrating with familiar colors (they totally would have been!). So of course, I figure I’ll share with you too, as part of my Holiday History series. 😉
The green part of “red and green” I pretty much knew. Since evergreens are the only thing growing in the Western hemisphere this time of year, it was chosen as a decoration–one we could find much significance in, as it’s a symbol of eternal life and/or rebirth. There were, of course, traditions surrounding this before Christianity took root–traditions that were easily integrated into the new faith because of how well they represented our ideals.
But red–that’s the one I wasn’t sure about. And it’s been around long enough that historians aren’t entirely sure about it. But this is their best guess:
Traditionally, the feast day of Adam and Eve is on Christmas Day. As part of the celebration in the Middle Ages, they would put on a play to educate the illiterate masses about Adam and Eve’s story. When they got to the part about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil their options were limited–the only tree still green was the pine. And the only fruit they had stores was the apple. So they’d tie an apple onto a pine bough, and that would represent their Tree.
Over the years, the red apple snuck into Christmas traditions too, appearing on wreaths and garlands. Red and green soon took hold in its own right. Holly became a popular plant to decorate with solely because it combines those two colors (and is an evergreen so, you know, around in December).
And there we have it! A tradition that has been around for somewhere between 500 and 1000 years, and shows no signs of stopping. =)