it’s not easy being green

Has it ever occurred to you to ban a particular colour from your life?  Purple perhaps, because it is too highfalutin;  or Black because of its funereal overtones; or Beige (Beige) because it is too life-drainingly dreary;  or Red because it makes you angry?   No, me neither.  And if you did choose a colour to banish, would it ever be   Green?

You can see how riveted I was then when a friend told me, quite casually, that green was not allowed in her life when she was growing up.  Not in her home, not in her clothes – nowhere.  Since I grew up in a household where aesthetics were of the utmost priority (and boy, did that create its own problems), the thought of banning a particular colour from the house was completely unimaginable!  I had to know more …

home greens
home greens

Alison, as we shall call her, grew up in a Protestant household in Glasgow.  (Alison was very keen to stress that this pertained to Glasgow in particular and not Scotland in general.)  Her mother allowed no speck of unnatural green in the house.   Any gift containing green she took to be a deliberate insult;  any bad things that happened to her or her family, from arguments to divorce, she blamed on the presence of green.  And the reason for this is that, in Glasgow, green is the colour of the Catholics.  Blue is the colour of the Protestants.

This confused me further.  From an art historical perspective if there was any colour that denotes Catholicism, it was, and still is, blue.  The Virgin Mary is also known as the Queen of Heaven and is practically always portrayed in cloaks of sky blues.  Contrastingly, green features rarely in the Christian religion – Catholic or Protestant – most probably in order to distance Christianity from the green-centred Pagan religions it had ousted.

If green is associated with any world religion it is Islam.  It is said to have been the Prophet’s favourite colour, especially for clothing and military standards.  This can still be seen today, with most Islamic flag and banner design containing green – in Gaddafi’s Libya the national flag was plain green.

So how come in Glasgow green is so strongly linked to Catholicism that a Protestant would not tolerate it in the house?  Well, it turns out it is all to do with football.  In the 19C, due to severe privation, many Catholics emigrated from Ireland to a Protestant Glasgow in search of a better life.  From that time there has been sectarian violence between the two religions.  Today it centres largely on the football teams – Celtic and Rangers.  Rangers are allied with the Protestant faith and wear blue shirts; whilst Catholic Celtic wear green and white shirts.

This green is clearly national rather than religious.  The green of the Catholic Irish symbolises their homeland rather than their religion.  (I once heard a cop on a US tv show describe the colour of a suspect’s sweatshirt as ‘fighting Irish green’.)  It is the Irish taking a small part of the Emerald Isle with them on their Odysseys.

But to ban an entire colour from your house – that is quite something.  Owing to this intense family conditioning it took Alison until her early 20s to de-programme herself.  Alison’s life is now verdant with green!

And while we’re on the subject, are there any Glaswegian Catholics out there who were not allowed blue in their house growing up?

our green dining table hand-painted by my father
detail of our green dining table hand-painted by my father

(Kermy …. !)

6 Comments

  1. This is so interesting and really got me thinking if there is any colour I wouldn’t use. I can’t think of any although I’d steer away from yellow just because I had rather too much yellow in my house at one time and must have OD’d on it. Many people have told me how they’d never use green in the house because it is supposed to bring bad luck but I don’t know where that came from. I’m sure I heard that the old Tate gallery in Pimlico had green walls for many of its Turners as it didn’t fight with the subject and was restful on the eyes. Lots to ponder, thanks!

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  2. Turns out Green is quite complicated. In some countries it is good luck, but if you use too much green it turns into bad luck. In this country it is bad luck for wedding dresses and cars. Many of the sayings which include green are negative, eg: green with envy. But to ‘be green’ these days is considered a good thing as it is the terminology adopted by the ecologically aware. It really isn’t easy being Green.

    Was the yellow your own choice, or that of your parents? I suppose too much yellow might be like too much sunshine. Sounds like a good idea, but becomes exhausting in the end. Thank you for all your thoughts.

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  3. Francesca….you are truly awesome…. I just love your articles. Reading this one has made me remember that green was my favorite clothing colour in my late teens. I haven’t worn this colour for over 50 years but have recently added 2 green outfits to my wardrobe. I really would love to meet you next time I am home. Take care. Carole

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  4. The yellow wasn’t my decision – it was the colour of the hall, sitting room, dining room and main bedroom of the house I moved into. It seemed very upbeat and happy at first but gradually I began to grow tired of it. You’re right – it was exactly like being in too much sunshine for too long and I needed some shade. So I replaced the sitting and dining room with grey (calm), the hall with white (calmer), and the main bedroom with a purply-blue (asleep).

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  5. Carole – you have been the most wonderful supporter from the beginning! Thank you, thank you!! How interesting that you are returning to green after 50 years. Is there a new beginning taking place in your life somewhere, I wonder? I always think Green is about life beginning again – the green shoots of spring. I would absolutely love to meet up next time you are home (interesting you still call it that!). Enjoy your new green attire.

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  6. You are clearly clever with colour! Yes, we all need shade, we all need darkness. Total light, total sunshine and we would go mad. I wonder what the previous owner was like. A lot of yellow might be good if one had depressive tendencies, but I think it would also prove ungrounding in the long run which might bring its own problems. Your comment prompted me to examine our house for yellow – we have one yellow room, the kitchen, which I find uplifting. At the time I also painted the hall yellow and that looked dreadful. It’s a tricky business.

    Love the sound of the colours your chose as replacements. Just been having a Fb conversation with someone trying to find the right grey – not easy. The purply-blue in the bedroom sounds blissful …

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