Today is a red-letter day that brings a grin to red-heads who celebrate it–Kiss a Ginger Day. I have no clue as to why January twelfth was chosen–perhaps it was simply out of ginger-serendipity. If it was up to me, there should actually be a redhead awareness week.
Regardless of the date, I celebrate my hair color’s special day every year. With each passing year, the red fades a little, with more white hairs showing up in the comb. As much as I’d like to preserve the color, the white strands seem immune to henna treatments. I tried this because my paternal grandmother touched up her hair with henna with remarkable results. I suppose I have the type of red hair that’s especially stubborn. It’s better to leave the coloration to nature anyway.
I consider having a day to positively celebrate gingers is small retribution for the oppression and hatred of gingers throughout western history, not too many centuries ago. In fact, during the Church’s Spanish Inquisition, many people with my hair color were branded as witches and burned at the stake. Some bishops believed red hair was the manifestation of the bearer stealing fires from Hell. I once read a story that claimed more than 45,000 gingers were tortured and executed in 15th century Germany on account of their red hair alone.
There is the myth that the Judas who betrayed Jesus had red hair–although evidence to this notion is questionable at best. So, in a round-about way, red hair became associated with Jewish people. That means redheads became entangled with the larger problem of medieval anti-semitic pogroms.
Social anti-ginger hatred goes back even further–to Ancient Greece. The Greeks were horrified whenever a redhead died because they were afraid the redhead’s soul would return as a Gorgon or Lamia–a fanged monster of the night. Redheads’ bodies were incinerated as a stopgap measure to prevent this from occuring.
Thankfully, there was another Ancient Greek tradition that was far more favorable. The Thracians worshipped gods that sported red hair and blue eyes. This may be due to the fact that many Thacians were gingers, themselves. According to legend, the heroic redheads acted with courage and honor. Many of their gravestones were enscribed with the honorific, “Rufus” (meaning redhead). In my opinion, Thacians were on the right track regarding gingers.
Although my childhood tormenters may have had the excuse of following society’s traditional dislike of gingers, I forgave them long ago. After all, everyone is human and deserving of courtesy and respect. The main difference is that we redheads have more flamboyant plumage.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes a passage from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. “It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity.”