[OPINION] Red is the color of Christmas
Christmas was never associated with red.
During the Victorian period, Christmas cards used a variety of colors such as blue, green, and white.
Today, from gift wrappers to Christmas stockings, red is the unmistakable color of good tidings.
How did it happen?
It pays to know history. In the 1930s Coca-Cola hired an artist to create the Santa Claus that everyone today is familiar with: fat, jolly, and garbed in red. Everything prosperous and happy came together for Coca-Cola, whose logo was also red.
In the spirit of historical honesty, it’s time to see Christmas in a different light. This is my Christmas proposition: To say that red is the color of Christmas is to reclaim what was lost.
But what did we lose?
People may not realize it, but the first Christmas was revolutionary. Red, representing valor, was its color through and through.
The story of Christmas gives us all the signs of a revolutionary moment.
The most glaring is that the Son of God was born in a manger because there was no place for Mary and Joseph. We know the rest of the story, often recounted like a heartwarming account of people who came together to welcome a beautiful boy.
But the nativity scene had the elements of a brewing revolution. Revolutions, in the first place, begin in the midst of injustice.
Think about it. Even Christ had no place in the world that God created. And those who witnessed it were outcasts themselves.
Mary was an insignificant teenager. Shepherds took on the lowliest job. And the three kings were not royalty. They were, according to scholars, Gentiles from the East (the biblical way of referring to outsiders).
John had the most appropriate words for this moment: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”
Treacherous politics, social strife, and captivity characterized the land when Jesus was born. Social order was so fragile that powerful people did everything to maintain their place in society.
King Herod, who wielded the power of the Roman Empire in Judea, was unhappy about the news.
How else would he react? News spread around that a baby “king” was born in Bethlehem. Herod knew that his time was running out.
Without batting an eyelash, he had children murdered in his kingdom. The event is now commemorated as the Massacre of the Innocents.
In the midst of this fragility came the resounding voice of the angels: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all.”
But it was a message that only the shepherds heard.
And it was not heartwarming. To think that the angels were singing for the shepherds a feel-good repertoire is a mistake.
It was, to say the least, the angelic battle cry for people in captivity to rise to the occasion. Their peace was at hand.
The first Christmas was thus revolutionary. Red, symbolizing bravery, could only be its color.
Call to arms
In other words, nothing about the redness of Christmas should give us warmth. The color red that we see around us should make us grapple with the birth of Christ as a call to arms.
This is why calling Christmas as a season of giving is a tragedy. It fails to see that Christmas is a divine message that tells the world “enough is enough”.
Consider the homeless, either because of conflict or corruption. Consider too the poor, not because they’re lazy but because unemployment is real. Consider as well the weak, the sick, and the families of the murdered in our midst.
Instructive are the words of Dante Stewart, who preaches in the tradition of black theology. He recently published a devotional book dedicated to Advent: “We refuse to succumb to the cruelty of the world. We refuse to ignore the pain and cries of those who suffer. We refuse to not be moved. We refuse to give up hope.”
If the first Christmas were to be reenacted today, I have no doubt that it would be to the outcasts that the angels would sing their song.
And they wouldn’t be wearing white.
Red is the color of Christmas because in times like these, we cannot simply be happy and pretend that all is well.
“Peace and goodwill to all” can only be the anthem of heaven’s revolutionary army. This Christmas, may it be our own. – Rappler.com
Jayeel Cornelio is a sociologist of religion at the Ateneo de Manila University and a new fellow of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC). He is the lead author of recent publications related to religion and politics in the Philippines: Christianity and the war on drugs, megachurch pastors and the anti-drug campaign, and religious freedom and gender equality. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.