Seeing Red… and Green!

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
December 2010

Steffie Shields celebrates the colours of Christmas
Forget New England, this autumn, we have seen the most spectacular ‘Fall’ colours I can remember. The Liquidambar tree my sister gave me is a fiery red pillar warming the garden view. As our time-changed days shorten, Nature finds a way to soothe the season, invigorating us with here a surprise fragrance, there a sudden flash of colour.

Now December is traditionally a time of year when the garden is the last thing on our minds. Yet I am suggesting that you take time out from the frenetic shopping rush, trailing around endlessly to find gifts more imaginative than socks for Uncle Jim and talc for Auntie Joan. Wrap up well and wander at whim in a garden or local park instead. I promise it will clear your head, even if bright crimson berries and rose hips don’t put you in festive mood. Bare red Cornus branches and Skimmia berries will vie for your attention amongst textured evergreens. Check out what greenery might be cut back that will also double as indoor decoration or door wreath. Why not organise a group of your friends to go and see how Doddington Hall or Normanby Hall is decked out? On a recent trip to a Cornwall valley garden, I recall seeing a magnificent red vine climbing up and up through dense, cone-laden branches to the very tip of a tall cedar. Though it was September, this giant garland brought Christmas into my thoughts in a flash.

Artists who know their colour theory appreciate that opposite primary red on the colour wheel sits green, made by mixing blue and yellow. Consequently, these complementary colours, red and green work so well in the garden, but, such is their power, they have also become synonymous with Christmas, a traditional association that dates back centuries. Green represents new life, while red, represents Christ’s blood, his sacrifice for his fellow man. We always hear strains of the familiar carol celebrating the holly and the ivy with iconic meaning that sees traditionalists bringing both berried swags and evergreen branches indoors to decorate their mantels and picture frames. Many in America, according to Google, credit Coca-Cola for creating the image of Santa Claus in a red and white suit in the 1930’s, another icon especially loved by children. Do not believe all you surf read! Both Saint Nicholas and Santa have been depicted wearing red for years!

Legends and truths merge together making each Christmas different, special and hopefully shared for millions. ‘Seeing red’ as a term of anger is played down, forgotten, for this is the time of year when the colour red suggests of love. Even mistletoe seems more fun, and much more obvious, tied up with a red ribbon! Since perhaps the 1300s, many churches celebrated Adam and Eve’s day on Christmas Eve. As part of the festivities, evergreen trees were decorated with red apples. This is one fresh and shining, rather than glitzy, decoration I would like to see brought back into fashion… one that children are allowed to reach up and grab on Christmas Day… and munch away happily, healthily. You can be sure, come this Christmas Eve, when all through the house is hushed… and hopefully ready and wrapped, I will be hanging a polished red apple on our Christmas tree, giving thanks for the birth of our first grandchild. Merry Christmas!

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