What color is Christmas? Silly question. It is many colors. But the memory of a child’s question came to mind when Crayola announced the cancellation of its “flesh” and “Indian red” crayon names. Flesh too is many colors, and Indian red got confused with Native American colors instead of the East Indian color it was supposed to resemble. So those colors had to go.
When I was a child I most certainly would have said “red and green.” All the construction paper projects we made in school for Christmas were red and green. But that has changed, too, just as surely as the season is now known as the “Holiday season,” including not only the Advent and Hanukkah traditions I grew up with, but Kwanza and many others. Many colored lights compete and confuse the selection.
Violet and blue appear on the church color calendar. For relatively obscure reasons they show up for Advent just as they do for Lent, combining hints of royalty with the theme of penitence. Why purple? Who knows? It is more apt to signify unleashed passion today, than self-denial and solemn preparation.
So I am going to suggest that brown is the real color of Christmas. Just try to find a brown bulb. Try to light it!
Brown is the color of a donkey, the wood of a stable, unbleached cloth, straw– in many shades of brown of course. And brown is the color of flesh, in just as many shades, the flesh that Jesus came to deliver, not necessarily the flesh of a newborn delivery, which almost always shows up pink and red at first, then gradually moves into its various shades of brown, pale light to rich dark.
Brown contrasts with the colors usually chosen for Christmas, which tend to be bright and garish. Silver and gold decorate a lot of things, but that we should save for Epiphany, long after Christmas, when the magi brought their unusual gifts. According to Matthew that may have been up to two years after Jesus’ birth. In the stable silver and gold are out of place. Life shows up as it is, humble and needy, connected directly to God’s love poured into human flesh.
If it is to be red, it must be the red of birthing blood. If it is to be green it must be the green of grass where sheep safely graze in the fields around Bethlehem.
Some suggest Christmases must be white. Not me. Too much trouble surrounds that color. I leave white well enough alone. Plain old brown it is. No fancy names to obscure the reality. I will decorate with brown. No one dares to cancel that color.