The colors of the season

December 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

The holiday season is upon us once again. A season of colors, all of which have significance. Beware, for here in Johnson's World, everything has a double meaning. Allow me, your somewhat overgrown elf, to guide you through this maze of holiday colors.


A primary color of light, pigment and Christmas, red is the color of Santa's suit, candy canes and the ribbons on packages and wreaths. This traditional holiday color also is the color of financial losses. This makes it especially familiar to many in the printing business as they wrap up their books along with their presents at the end of the year.

Ah, but red also is a color of hope. If you can see the red lights on the back of the train as it disappears into the night, it means the train probably didn't run over you.


The opposite of red, green is the first color people associate with the holiday season. A secondary color of light, green has been the operating “fad” word of 2008. What might Santa leave on your carpet after sliding down your chimney? Carbon footprints! Don't get the joke? I'll bet you still listen to Perry Como albums. On vinyl.

The word “green” is already falling out of vogue from overuse, to be replaced by the more accurate term, “ecofriendly.”

Green is the opposite of red in more ways than one, for it is the color of money, which is high on my wish list this and every year. “Peace on earth, good will toward men” are my prayers, but continued positive cash flow and access to operating capital are important.


For the Druids among us, black is the color of the winter solstice, the darkest evening of the year. For you naughty printers, black is the color of the coal you are going to get in your stockings. More cheerfully, it is the coal dust on Santa's face.

Being in the black means being profitable.


Gold also is a Hanukkah color. In fact, every tradition lays claim to gold, the ultimate color of success. In uncertain financial times, gold often is used as a hedge investment against everything from inflation and currency fluctuations to nuclear war and ingrown toenails.

If I know what's good for me, I'll be increasing my wife's gold reserves on Christmas morning.

A commodity bellwether, gold prices were dropping like a rock as of this writing.


Speaking of commodities, does anyone remember the silver crisis? In the early 1980s, brothers Herbert and Bunker Hunt of Texas, heirs to the Hunt Oil fortune, cornered the world silver market by buying up, but not selling, silver futures.

They lost their shirts. These were the guys who inspired the joke, “How do you make a small fortune in Texas? Start with a large fortune!”

They also damaged many innocent bystanders, as skyrocketing silver prices created chaos in all industries that made use of industrial silver. The biggest use was film, which was crucial to lithography.

Now doesn't matter. A silver crisis today would go unnoticed in the printing industry, thanks to digital cameras and computer-to-plate technology.

The whole crisis was over in less than a year, but for one holiday season, your silver ornaments were worth more than the presents under the tree.


Blue is another Hanukkah color. And in other traditions, blue has become the advent symbol of hope and anticipation. Maybe that is why blue is the color of the Chicago Cubs.

Who can forget Irving Berlin's pleasant refrain:
Blue skies
Smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see.

May all your skies be blue (er, cyan) in 2009.

Some gift suggestions

Most “Johnson's World” readers have young folks on their holiday gift lists. Let someone else buy them the trendy stuff that will be broken or forgotten by New Year's Day. Buy a sure thing. Give something you loved as a child. Think the gift of print is just too old fashioned? Here are some hints for maximizing the delight of the youngest generation:

The VHS tapes today's teenagers received for Christmas 1995 are obsolete. Their parents' beta format tapes from Christmas 1975 are unplayable. Ah, but the first edition of “When We Were Very Young” that delighted greatgrandpa on Christmas morning 1925 is every bit as readable today as it was then.

If you can't resist, buy a Dr. Seuss DVD for a five-year-old and a stuffed Tigger for a newborn — not instead of the original books, but in addition to them. It's fun to hug Pooh or Piglet while reading about their adventures.

Most importantly, give of yourself. Read your gift aloud. My grandchildren don't know or care about my involvement with the last Linotypes or the first iGens, but they will forever associate me with lovable Edward “Pooh” Bear.

Promote literacy, promote print, and thrill a child as well. Happy holidays.