The colours of christmas have changed through the years for me. When I was small we used to do an annual trek from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The hours of cramped and sweaty travelling through the dry, brown and grey of the Karoo was all so that we could have a proper xmas – something that Johannesburg was certainly not capable of providing. When eventually we got over the Hex River mountains, my mother would wind down the window and sniff the cape air and we would start getting excited because we were nearly there. The blue sea and white beaches, the pink and blue hydrangeas, the dusty green oaks, red peaches and the white and green of the old cape buildings – these were all the correct and proper background colours of christmas. The correct and magical way to have christmas was provided by my great aunts in a Herbert Baker house that had been left to them by Cecil Rhodes. The long table with crisp white tablecloth, the little sparkly silver christmas tree decorations, the big brown turkey that Aunt Winifred had wrestled into submission and all the relatives in their smart clothes. I remember one xmas having been given a hair band covered with little pink roses that I thought the most beautiful creation. I twirled around in my party dress and imagined that I looked like a fairy. As I got older the christmas colours didn’t seem quite as vivid and fresh as I had remembered and I learnt to be a bit critical of the colonial colours that had painted the early christmas magic.
It does seem strange that in South Africa we should have so stubbornly adopted the “traditional” colours of christmas – white for snow, green pine trees, and red for santa’s suit, berries, choir robes and cold noses. We impose these xmas symbols on our landscape. Our white is the white of clouds and beaches and sun. Perhaps it’s good that we still have xmas trees – it’s a way of getting rid of alien pines. Our red noses are caused by sunburn and not cold. And why do we persist in having red fur-clad santas sweating through the shopping malls? Is it because the colour of christmas is really the colour of money?
Relax – I’m not going to make any moralistic appeals. There’s lots about christmas that I love. I’m a traditional girl from a colonial past and I’m mercenary and materialistic and I love eating (although maybe not tough old turkey) and the colours of christmas remain red, green and white for me. But I want to keep adding to the meanings of the traditions of those colours. So, this christmas I want the red to be the red of passion and love. The white is the white of our clouds and beaches and the ability to enjoy all good things in a clear and innocent way. The green is for the springing of hope and the force that ‘drives my green age’ in ways that will be kind and good for those I am connected to.
What are the colours of your christmas?