I was recently told by a friend that she had “passed through” her “red stage” a few years back and has moved on to a different palette. She is preparing to decorate a new house and I was commenting on how much I loved the deep red paint on an accent wall in her kitchen. She said she had a whole can of it the last owners left in the garage and she was putting my name on it. We laughed as I explained that I have loved the same colors for most of my married life.
It got me to thinking about what things I prefer around me, what I like to see, and what gives me peace or keeps me calm. And I thought about color. I know there is a whole psychology to color analysis, but I am so not going there! When we were married, our colors for our home were gray and yellow. I have no idea where I got that combo from, but I received towels and bedding in those tones. My husband hated them! The funny thing is that our wedding was in ivory, black, and red. We were married in December and I chose complementary winter colors. But for my home, I chose yellow and gray. Well, it didn’t last long. As soon as the towels wore out, I switched – to barn red, old gold, navy blue, and hunter green. All my homes and rooms have been done in those color combos of some sort.
We moved to a dairy house when our middle son was almost a year old and our oldest was in kindergarten. The house’s floor plan remains my husband’s favorite and he told me if we ever build our own home, that is the plan, with very few changes. I liked it, too, and have fond memories of that house. A friend helped us paint our kitchen this lovely yellow (not the same tone as my previous towels – more along a butter color; golden tones) to match cabinets from the 40s and we trimmed it all in wonderful wallpaper with greens and reds and blues in it. Unfortunately, the house was carpeted with blue carpeting that we could not afford to replace, so we had throw rugs down that were red and green and blue. And I decorated around it. I was told once that if there is a feature you can’t get fixed, decorate around it. Very few people remember we had blue carpeting!!
From that point forward, I have always decorated with those same colors. We visited my in-laws for a week one time (well, we visited far more than one time, but this one particular visit I remember well) and when we got home I felt my eyeballs relax; the muscles in my shoulders went down and I realized I’d been clenching them (maybe it was my husband’s driving or the fact that we had a 19-hour drive home with two little boys in the car!!). It is weird because I noticed how pale things seemed at their house. There was lots of snow all around, so that made things appear pale. But their home was decorated in pale blues and pale greens. I realized that I decorate using a very strong palette. I had never thought about it before, but I realized that I used those colors over and over again for the past 30 years. Why?
In this house, we have pale tan walls or white walls. All the floors are hardwood in a dark oak tone, except for the kitchen, which is a dark brown linoleum pattern that makes you think it’s stone (I’m glad it’s not or it would be cold in the winter time!). We have a brown couch and I have my red and green blanket over the back of it. I have my color palette around me and I am comfortable. And then we brought out all the Christmas decorations. That was enlightening. It’s all reds, greens, and deep blues and golds. Hmmmm….is it related to my choice of palette?
I know that Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love, as I have posted, pretty much everything about Christmas. The sights, sounds, and smells are incredible to me. I realized in October that I longed for the last leaves to fall, so snow would come and we could be that much closer to Christmas.
I learned about the Paradise Tree long ago, and the story is that in the 1300s the Church used to tell the story of Adam and Eve, usually on December 24th; “Adam and Eve Day.” The majority of people were illiterate in those days, so they would use props to tell the story and one prop was an evergreen tree. There were no apple trees blooming in December, so they would bring in their stored apples and hang them on the trees, or they created red orbs to represent apples. In the 14th century, individual Germans began to bring evergreen trees indoors, decorating them with apples, in reminiscence of this Paradise Tree. As the years went by, they added round wafers, depicting the communion wafers, or Eucharist, received during Divine Liturgy or Mass. The explanation was that Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the apple was replaced with the salvific nature of God in the Eucharist. So there were red and white orbs on the green trees. You can see where this is going. Other traditions using these colors were from much earlier. The Romans used to bring evergreen boughs into their homes over the long winters, and would gift one another with them to help ameliorate those long winters. Another tradition was to bring mistletoe and holly into homes over the long winters, reminding people that spring would come and things would bloom (as the holly berries reminded them of fruit and flowers). Gradually these traditions came to be associated with Christmas. White is the color of snow and of purity. Churches are usually decorated in white during Advent and Christmas. Gold is the color of royalty and in most eastern and Orthodox Churches, the altars are decorated in gold. Blue is the color of the Blessed Mother, or Theotokos. In ancient times, dyeing cloth blue was more costly than gold and was reserved for royalty to wear. To show the importance of Mary, She is always depicted wearing blue cloth.
There are lots of other theories about green being the color of hope, red being the color of sacrifice (and blood), and blue representing the sky and heaven, while white represents snow and purity and God. Whichever theory or historical evidence you prefer, it seems that the colors of Christmas are with us to stay, and have been for more than 700 years. It is so ingrained that one elementary school in Texas actually told their students that no red and green can be used during Christmas to decorate their classrooms, and they cannot wear red and green in combination, so as to not offend those who do not celebrate Christmas. I guess that means no “ugly sweaters,” no Christmas play and no Christmas music for those kids. Bah! Hum-bug!
And so I find myself wondering why these tones resonate so much with me and I realize that it is all wrapped up in what brings me joy, and peace, and hope. I feel that so much during the Christmas season. We wish people a Merry Christmas and we also wish them a Happy New Year! Why do we do that? Because we are being renewed. We are given this time of the Holy Birth to experience our own rebirth. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us…the Birth of Christ opens us to the numberless possibilities of our future. We look forward to that “New Year” when we can apply the hope, and joy, we feel this season to the rest of our lives. Being reborn each year means we get a fresh start. We can choose to deny the season’s gifts of love, and joy, and hope, and the possibilities that lay before us – we can bah-hum-bug our way through life. Or we can embrace these gifts and we can choose to be reborn, renewed, and we can go forth with the Spirit of Christmas in our hearts (and maybe in our home decor) all the year long.