Snow has settled in on us, and cold. The winter world’s only colors here in the north are evergreen and red berries. When I walk roads near our house or drive through the countryside, hemlocks, spruce, and pines are the only greens, contrasting with gray and black deciduous trunks and browned leaves that cling to their branches. Bright red holly and wild winterberry stand out against a neutral-toned landscape. It’s not surprising that green and red have come to symbolize Christmas, which has roots in ancient mid-winter festivals.

summergardenplateofholly_sq600px72ppiDuring Saturnalia, December 17-25, Romans exchanged greenery such as holly and ivy to wish one another long life, peace, and good fortune. Christians reinterpreted the festival as Christ’s Mass. For them winter greenery represented hope and eternal life, with red signifying Christ’s sacrificial blood. As the celebration of Christmas spread around the world, diverse cultures added more red and green symbols: evergreen trees, garlands, and wreaths (the circle also representing eternity); red apples (reminders of the Garden of Eden) and red-and-white candy canes (shepherd’s staffs) to hang in Christmas trees, and red Santa suits (for the jolly old elf who descended from St Nicholas and his scarlet bishop’s robe).

plateofcones_sq600px72ppiWhen Jay and I exhibit in fall and winter, red and green glass always attracts attention. People choose to buy something to decorate their own homes for the holidays or they are attracted to the red and green color scheme as a seasonal gift. At the start of our last exhibit of this year, at Skytop Lodge near Cresco, Pennsylvania, our daughter and grand-daughter were visiting from Wisconsin. They agreed to help us set up our booth the day after Thanksgiving. We asked twelve-year-old Maggie to arrange a Christmas table while our daughter, Jay, and I set up shelves of other glass. Maggie created a fine arrangement of all the red and green dishes, candle-bridges, and coasters and a few pieces with red-and-gold stars.

Before the show opened, Maggie added pine cones and fresh-cut holly to our seasonal display. And that brings to mind an old carol that tells about a particular red and green symbol of the season. Want to sing along?

Christmas candle arrangement

Christmas candle arrangement

 

The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom,
As white as the lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our sweet Savior.
The rising of the sun, etc.

The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to do us sinners good.
The rising of the sun, etc.

The holly bears a prickle,
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
The rising of the sun, etc.

The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
The rising of the sun, etc.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun, etc.


Leave a Comment