Wednesday 13 March was a rare boon for retailers. The supposed beginning of spring intersected with Pantone’s Color of the year, 17-5641 Emerald, ‘a lively, radiant, lush green’ and National Jewel Day (the holiday Hallmark forgot. I looked for a card but couldn’t find one.) All the signs at this intersection were Green.
Green, the color of Spring, green lies on the visual scale between blue and yellow. It’s also closely associated with the environment, planting seasons, Islam, birth and rebirth, hope, seasickness and envy. According to the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, green is the most abundant hue in nature. “The human eye sees more green than any other color in the spectrum.” Especially now, when green is the non-declared color of the month, as St Patrick’s Day turns into an extended celebration of all things Irish American. Green shamrocks, green clovers, green Leprechauns, green clothes, green milkshakes are everywhere. For one month, Kermit, you’re wrong.
Green, the Common English word, stems from the Old & Middle English word Grene, which like the German word for green “grun,” branches from the Proto Indo European root, Ghre. This is also the root from which stems other green friendly words like Grass and Grow. Wikipedia points out that some languages originally had one word for green and blue – Old Chinese, Old Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese – while others, particularly slavish and Turkish languages had one word for green and yellow. linguistic overlaps that matched the gradations of the visual scale. In art, Green first appeared in works from Ancient Egypt and Mesopatamia.
Both Christianity and Islam have strong ties to the color. It is said to be the prophet Mohammed’s favorite color and in certain countries, only his descendants could wear green turbans. Frequently, qu’rans are bound in green cloth, a reference to the funeral covering of Allah’s apostles. Green is also the color most often mentioned in the holy book – especially in the descriptions of paradise. When you consider the desert regions of most of the Muslim world, the reference to a color which is associated with fertile lands and spring/renewal makes lots of sense. Interestingly, in Arabic, Green is “unambiguously” akhdar and had no shared meanings or color references.
As the western world embraces its first month of greenness at the cusp of Spring, it makes sense to that a feast day of a minor saint has become a world wide party. Much like Mardi Gras, St Patrick’s Day reflects some hope of spring and sunshine, after months of winter. Basically, it breaks up the monotony between Christmas and the vernal equinox/Easter. Easter, which itself may be the adoption into the Christian liturgical calendar of the feast of Ostara, a Germanic Fertility Goddess. Patrick became associated with green for a couple of reasons: he’s said to have used a shamrock (3 leafed clover) to teach the Irish about the trinity and being Irish, and he was associated with Green of the Irish flag. That tricolor flag – green, white and orange, represents a peaceful blend of Gaelic (green) Ireland with the followers of William of Orange.
Do you think some other Saint, like St Abban (March 16) or St Cyril of Jerusalem (March 18) is green with envy over the attention Patrick has managed to garner? St Patrick’s Day started as the Irish in America as a celebration of the cultural and religious heritage. The concentration of Irish immigrants in metropolitan areas probably contributed to the popularity of St Patrick’s Day, while other holidays around this time, like Dyngus Day languish in obscurity.
It wasn’t until the 16th century that green was documented as being associated with envy and jealousy. According to the OED, the first written record of this usage was in two of Shakespeare’s plays.
So Green, the middle color of the spectrum, is the color we turn to for this weekend at least, and if Pantone and retailers have their way, all year long. But as you sip that McShamrock Shake, take a second to remember, St Patrick’s actual color? It’s blue.