Originally published December 14, 2017 on the Bridging the Gap Blog.
When most people in America think about Christmas, visions of reds and greens (and maybe sugar plum fairies) dance in their heads. This is likely because sometime in autumn, stores begin to fill their shelves with glittering reds, shiny greens, and banners of “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” from floor to ceiling. There are thousands upon thousands of color schemes that could have been chosen to represent the holiday, but why do we usually think of red and green? In any other context, these colors sort of clash with each other. Why do we think of Christmas when we see red and green together?
This question has been bothering me for some time, so I decided to just sit down and research it (okay, I Googled and clicked on several links). Much to my chagrin, I found that there does not seem to be a definite answer to my quandary but rather an assortment of theories as to why these two colors first became and are now so widely associated with the season. My favorite of the theories stems from ancient traditions from the Egyptians and then Romans, who brought green plants and red berries indoors during the cold, dark winter months to remind them of life that would be coming in the spring. This reminds me of our evergreen Christmas trees—some of the only plants that keep their color in the winter months when the world turns chilly white and dying brown. I can’t help but think about how Jesus came into our world with life and truth to juxtapose the darkness and gloom.
When I was a little girl, my family started an Advent tradition to celebrate this coming of Jesus into our world. Every night in December, before we went to bed, my two siblings and I joined my parents in the living room, where we clustered around our small coffee table. I remember everyone clothed in clean Christmas jammies and nestled into each other with warm blankets. (I’m sure it wasn’t always this smooth, but I’ll choose to use a certain suspension of disbelief here). With the fireplace lit and all family snuggled together, my dad began to read from a little green devotional book called The Advent Jesse Tree.
“Isaiah 11:1… ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.…’” read my dad. “What’s a shoot?” asked one of my siblings. My mom explained that a man named Jesse would have a child, who would have another child, who would also have a child, and from somewhere along that line would come Jesus. The stories that followed on each devotional day from the Old and New Testaments brought context to the account of Jesus’ birth and aimed to illustrate that he is the messiah who fulfilled all of the recorded prophecies.
When my dad finished reading each Advent night, our eyes returned to the coffee table, to a basket of tiny wrapped packages. Inside each one was an ornament that my mom had crafted according to the devotional. (At first she bought the ornaments with the book, but as time went by and the ornaments weathered, she replaced them with her own.) My siblings and I took turns opening the ornaments and hanging them on a simple garland above a living room door.
My family has attempted several traditions throughout the years, but none of them has stuck as fondly in my memory as our Jesse Tree tradition. The world is full of evil, darkness, and pain. It’s an inescapable reality. However, just like green and red were brought into ancient homes during the long winter months, this family tradition reminds me that there is life, hope, and joy. Jesus did come unto us. He did fulfill the prophecies. He brought joy with him. And there is life because of him.