“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches!” If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, you can go back and read all about white Christmases and red poinsettias. But today’s color is one of my favorites: green.
That green is one of my favorite colors shouldn’t surprise you, given the title of my blog and the fact that I write so frequently about trees. And unless you walk around with blinders on these days, you can’t go far without seeing some green of Christmas: trees, elf costumes, candy wrappers.
There are many conjectures about why green is one of the traditional colors of Christmas. Perhaps it’s because Italy’s flag had green in it. Or maybe the church set Christmas to coincide with pagan winter solstice celebrations, complete with their evergreen trees. Some sources suggest we celebrate with green trees because the German church in the 1300s used pines decorated with red apples to suggest a “paradise tree” in plays about Adam and Eve and the tree in the garden of Eden. Or maybe green is so popularly associated with Christmas because of holly plants, with their green, waxy leaves and bright red berries:
The holly bush is supposedly the only plant that grows in all 50 of the United States. It’s considered lucky in many cultures, appears in many Christmas decorations and even shows up in Christmas carols. This past Sunday, my church’s youth choir sang a lovely version of the Sans Day Carol that ends like this:
Now the holly bears a berry, as blood it is red.
Then trust we our Savior who rose from the dead.
And Mary bore Jesus Christ our Savior for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.
It’s no surprise that the church would take a plant like the holly, with its spiky evergreen leaves and bright red berries to connect symbolically with Christ: the blood He shed for us, the crown of thorns He wore on the cross and the hope of eternal life He brought to us through His resurrection.
Hope in dark times
Whether the origin of the association of green with Christmas began with nonChristian or Christian traditions or both, the color does represent life and hope in this season. We are almost to the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, sometimes referred to as the longest night or the darkest day.
It feels like the darkest day came early this year. And it seems like this Christmas especially, we need green’s reminder of life and hope. As a nation, we grieve with the families in Newtown, Conn., while we also go about Christmas preparations.
If you’re like me, you find your emotions fluctuating: from tears as you read the names, see pictures or hear the stories of the children and school employees who died, but then you find yourself laughing when the children in your own life light up about the coming school break and the accomplishments of the year and their hopes for Christmas day packages.
I remember the first time I laughed after a child dear to me died, as well as the first time that precious child’s mother laughed. It felt so very odd to me that the world didn’t stop and stand still for our grief and odd that our own lives and light spirits gave us ways to smile even in the midst of such raw pain. And yet, that’s what life brings us: a jumble of joy and sorrow and hope and fear and a love that never ends, even when death separates one beloved one from another.
The color green, especially in winter when so much is gray and brown, reminds us of this jumble of emotions and helps bring us hope that life will bloom again.
And isn’t that, after all, the promise of Christmas, the assurance that came along with Christ’s death and resurrection? He is coming again. And then, life will bloom forevermore.
In Revelation, we read of Christ’s promise fulfilled through a flourishing, green tree: “On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2).
As we yearn for the healing of our nations, let us cling to the promise offered by the green of Christmas and the promise of the tree of life. It will bud and bloom and always bear fruit, and because of it, we are reminded that our lives go on.