Does the word orange mean anything to you? Does it alarm you, raise an eyebrow, make you smile? Orange signifies all sorts of things, whether it’s the fruit, colour, or the name of a county south of L.A. But there’s something about Orange that defies definition. There’s something about it that says, “I dare you!”
I have a college friend who, as someone known for her daring deeds, recently challenged me to write about Orange (heh heh, D-LO). She and I have a past history concerning orange jello. I’m not even sure why. After twenty-eight years without the All-American jello salad in my life, anything resembling brightly coloured gelatine with all manner of fruit, nuts, cream cheese, sherbet, pretzels and/or Cool Whip in it is a great wobbling relic from my former life as a jello-eater. Here in the UK, jelly as it is known, has never evolved beyond a children’s pudding served with custard. So, I look back on my American jello-eating days with much affection and amusement. Especially, it seems, orange jello. Maybe it’s just that jello + orange are two of my favourite words.
Orange, then. It really is a funny word, especially if you honk it, American style–“ORNJ”. It’s that ugly duckling of words that doesn’t rhyme with anything. Orange, unlike its opposite, blue, does not conform. It keeps its own company, quite happily, unless invited in as a third party to liven up some beige goings on. A splash of it here and there really does lift the mood. It goes well with zap! zest! and zing! It wakes you up, grabs your attention, and says, in no uncertain terms, “I’m here! I’m alive!” It definitely stands out in a crowd. You can’t ignore it. You may love it or hate it, but you can never be neutral.
I grew up in The Land of Orange, Southern California, aka SoCal, which sounds like a diet orange drink. I am a child of the sixties, which could be defined as the essence of orange. I grew up not caring what anybody thought of me. I did not want to conform to anyone else’s dreams but my own. Childhood was one long, orange-highlighted stage on which I danced and performed to my heart’s content. The scent of orange still sharpens my memory of late spring afternoons sitting on freshly cut grass after play rehearsal, peeling oranges. Orange is sweet and sticky, and you eat it one smile at a time. Orange is meant to be shared. Orange is friendship and youth.
My favourite Land of Orange story centres around my little brother when he was five years old. In school, we were learning French. For a SoCal elementary school in the 1960’s, this was an incredibly orange thing to do. SoCal children learned Español. Not us. We were different. We even had a teacher, Madame Quiette, who was actually French! It was marvellous. We felt special. The entire school even put on a French recital in the big Baptist church so that all our parents could come and hear us speak French. It began with the kindergartners marching proudly up on stage and giving little waves to their moms and dads as they gathered around a big basket of fruit. One by one, they picked up a piece of fruit and announced in nervous, halting French what they were eating. Then, it was little Jimmy Harmeling’s turn. He chose the orange, swung it up over his head like a baseball, and shouted for all the world to hear,
“JE MANGE UN OH-RANGE!”
The explosion of laughter that followed the delivery of this particular phrase continues to slay our family fifty years later. The absurdity of orange knows no bounds with us. Orange cuts through all pretence, and like a five-year old, says it like it is.
You can’t peg orange. It makes you go outside the box. There is plenty of it around in the fall of the year. Orange is pumpkin and spice and changing leaves. It glows and crackles in a burning log and warms you against a dull, gray sky. But why should orange be seasonal?
I began looking for it in the midst of all the green and red of Christmas, wondering where I would find orange. Then, I remembered the Christingle. As a child from The Land of Orange, I grew up never having any knowledge of such a thing. I was introduced to the Christingle only when my children started school here in Cambridge and I was invited to their Christingle service. It’s a unique aspect of the church’s Christmas tradition here in the UK, and a very beautiful one. The tradition and name originated in Moravia, and means “Christ light.” Each part of the Christingle is meant to tell the gospel story. It begins with an orange and a candle. The orange is the world, and the candle inserted into the orange, is Jesus, the light of the world. A red ribbon is tied around the orange to signify the gift of Jesus’ blood shed for us. Four toothpicks festooned with sweets are stuck into the “four corners of the world” as reminders of God’s goodness. This simple, hand held object captures the whole meaning of Christmas in a way that even a small child can understand.
As the focus of this special Christmas service, each child or adult is given his or her own Christingle, because Christ died for each one of us. As the candles are lit by each other, one at a time, the light of Christ spreads, illuminating the darkness as well as each individual face. A carol, usually “Silent Night”, is sung into the hushed void as the candles are being lit.
The memories of this service stir my heart. My children are now grown, and I no longer go to Christingle services. But wait, there’s something hidden in that orange, something I never saw before. The world is orange, not apple. Each of us is unique, alive, created with boldness, flair, and outside the box. We are as absurd as jello, and yet, gifted, inventive, and created to celebrate. We do nothing in half measures. We are brazen, loud, and triumphant. But the crimson gash across our orangeness is the scar of our sinfulness, borne by Christ to cover us and given freely back to us as eternal life. It reminds us that there is too much of us, and not enough of Him. Red brings orange back down to earth. Red is stronger, more passionate than orange. Red is primary, pure; orange tells us that we are not. There is no Orange without Red.
So, D-LO, I wrote about Orange.
May Christ’s light shine! Merry Christingle!