The Suitcase Lady


May 20, 2014, 10:01 pm

“If you find a piece of red beach glass, you will be having a red letter day,” I recently remarked to a friend. And then a question spontaneously popped into my brain…..why do we call special days red letter ones?

The answer was easy to find and dates back to the 1400’s. Since the peasants couldn’t read, the church fathers printed the special feast days on ecclesiastical calendars with red ink. And here we are, six hundred years later, still having red letter days.

Red is an assertive color. First on the visible spectrum of light, it has the longest wave length of all the colors. Red is hard to ignore and evokes strong responses.

On the positive side we have those red letter days and we can get the red carpet treatment or be a red blooded male. Red is the color associated with love and Valentines Day. Christmas without red is unthinkable. In Asia it is the good luck color seen everywhere at New Year’s time and wedding celebrations.

But red has numerous negative connotations as well. It is not good to see red, be in the red, be caught red handed or have to deal with red tape, red cents or red herring. Scarlet letters have a vastly different meaning than red letter days. Red is also associated with danger, therefore, Homeland Security does not issue mauve alerts.

During the day, red is bold, flamboyant and screaming for attention. But when the sun starts to set, red is the first color to retreat into the shadows. Those red sails at sunset aren’t red.

Scientifically, red, green and blue are the primary additive colors of light and produce white when mixed together. Red, yellow and blue are the primary colors of pigment. They produce brown (mud color, as I tell my students) when mixed together. This is all confusing, but in both science and art, red stands out. It’s the drama queen of colors.

4 Comments for this entry

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Keukenhof, Holland – May 19, 2013

  • eve

    Mary–Very well said, my red-headed friend!

  • Marco Veerkamp

    Nice! We don’t have red letter days in the Netherlands. What we do have is holy days. Apart from the obvious meaning the term is also used for spots that you inadvertently forgot when painting. They are called like that because of their likeness to the holy days on the calender, being left empty because no work is done on those days.

  • Mary

    Marco! I definitely need a few holy days when no work is being done. I finished my last day of the school year yesterday and have two weeks off before my summer library programs begin. The summer program is on rocks and fossils so I have to build up some strength for carrying those rocks all over the state.