If you live in the UK chances are you’ve come across a red robin when gardening, out in the park or walking in the woods. Here’s the one I have in my garden. This cheeky chap is always near me when I’m out gardening, probably to see if he can catch a worm or two. He’s even been known to fly into my living room and sit on my coffee table. Probably to tell me to get gardening as he’s hungry!
Since basing myself in the UK, I found out these cute, little inquisitive birds have a very special place in British folklore when it comes to Christmas. Here are the two stories I’ve heard.
The first one is in relation to the postmen in Victorian Britain who were apparently nicknamed ‘robins’ because of their red-breasted coloured uniforms. As the story goes, it then became popular to see these cute little birds on a Christmas card who came to represent ‘the postman’ delivering the card.
The second Christmas story is said to be when a robin rested upon Jesus’ shoulder when he was on the cross and sang to relieve his suffering. The blood from Jesus’ crown of thorns stained the little bird’s chest, and ever since then, all robins were red breasted.
If we look at the three ways we relate to colour which I mention in my book, The Little Book of Colour, the red robin and the postman relates to colour association and the blood stain from the crown of thorns relates to colour symbolism.
Are red robins breasts really red?
Have you noticed a robin’s red-breast is actually orange which you can see on my friendly robin. Robin’s were called red before the English language had a word for the colour ‘orange’. Many things that were really orange were called red even though we did have the word for ‘orange’, as in the fruit.
The colour orange was not named as a colour in the English language until the 16th century. However like a lot of traditions, the colour name wasn’t changed and it’s been red robin ever since. I guess orange robin doesn’t have the same ring to it!
I am so lucky to have this delightful bird in my garden (there’s only one as apparently they are very territorial) and hear his beautiful birdsong. I’m so pleased they aren’t just for Christmas but all year round!
Wishing you a colourful Christmas
Source: QI Series K – Knees & Knockers