Advent is such a short season. Already, it is time to light the second candle on the Advent wreath, marking only a few short weeks until the arrival of Christ. As Christmas approaches, let us continue to bring hygge—that indescribable sense of coziness, warmth, and light that beckons us out of the darkness of winter—home to our families with great Christmas family traditions, one of which is decorating our homes with the beautiful colors of the season.
As a tiny oasis of purple, green, and pink nestled in the reds, greens, golds, and whites of Christmas, all of which are as rich in meaning as they are in hue and saturation, the Advent wreath is a perfect example of the meaningful colors at Christmastime. The purple candles, for example, represent the fasting and repentance of the Advent season, reminding us of the powerful, prayerful focus of the season, so easily forgotten in the rush to Christmas. Purple is also the color of royalty, reminding us of the sovereignty of Christ whose birth we await.
Some churches have begun to use blue candles instead of purple candles, to distinguish Advent from Lent, but both are acceptable. Blue can signify the color of the night sky, so prevalent in the winter months, or the waters of creation that we read about in the first chapter of Genesis. The pink candle represents joy, marking the halfway point of the season, reminding us that our vigilant watching and waiting has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
When Christmas day arrives, we can fully envelop ourselves in the reds, greens, whites and golds that announce Christ’s birth to the world. White and gold are the traditional feast day colors in the Catholic church, symbolizing light, innocence, purity, joy, and triumph — white or gold vestments are worn by priests during Mass for the seasons of Christmas and Easter, and most other feasts in the church, barring some exceptions to the rule.
However, red and green have a long history too — dating back, like the Advent wreath, to the Winter Solstice celebrations held by pre-Christian Roman and Germanic peoples. Red and green have long been used as representatives of the holly leaves and berries, the green symbolizing life in the darkest of winters and the red symbolizing the berries and the promise of a bountiful spring. When Christians adapted these celebrations, they retained the use of red and green.
For Christians, it took on additional meanings. Holly is associated with the crown of thorns of Jesus, the spiny leaves similar to the thorns and the red berries like the blood that dripped down his face as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Red is also seen in bishops and cardinals’ vestments and has strong connections to the Holy Spirit.
It’s likely, though, that red and green became the “true” colors of Christmas (at least in the secular sense) because of a 1931 Coca-Cola ad, with a “right, jolly old elf” robed in red.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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