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 …
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?
(Kermy …. !)