I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Between one and two percent of the world’s population are natural redheads. They turn up in mythology, and not always in a good way, and they are admired and bullied in equal measure. But, gingers never go unnoticed.
What Causes Red Hair?
There’s a gene mutation called MC1R that is sometimes called a melanocortin 1 receptor; genetic science that shuts down the brown and black pigmentation leaving gorgeous red locks.
Red-headedness occurs more frequently in people of Celtic descent and there’s a theory this might be tied to the weather. The northwest corner of the British Isles is starved for sunshine. People with red hair also have pale skins and this allows them to absorb more vitamin D in low-light conditions. This confers a health advantage, so people with red hair and pale skins have an evolutionary advantage over darker skinned people in cloudy environments.
“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.”
— Redheaded Mark Twain
So, it comes as no surprise that the countries not blessed with lots of sunshine have higher than average numbers of carrot tops; these are all the Scandinavian nations, Northern France, and the Netherlands. And, there’s one outlier, the Volga region of Russia.
Udmurtia is about 780 miles (1,267 km) east of Moscow and more than 10 percent of the people there have red hair. There seems to be no explanation as to why this concentration has occurred.
Prejudice Against Redheads
Folk with carroty tresses stand out from the crowd. Such is the primitive nature of some humans that different means threatening and so has to be dealt with cruelly.
Red hair is a trait more common than the world average among Jews. The villainous clerics behind the Spanish Inquisition assumed all red-headed people were Jews and, therefore, had to be persecuted, because that's what their loving god demanded.
The Malleus Maleficarum is a treatise written by the Catholic cleric Heinrich Kramer in 1486. It claimed that people with red hair and green eyes were clearly witches and recommended their extermination.
Other traits, such as freckles and moles, are more common among those with carroty hair, so they became identification marks by with those in league with Satan could be known. To the superstitious mind, those creatures had to be stamped out.
But, that was then, and this is now, and we’re a much more enlightened bunch. Some of us maybe; but there are still more than enough knuckle-draggers around. Nelson Jones in the New Statesman catalogued a series of unprovoked attacks on gingers in Britain in 2013. Some led to the death of the victim.
Jones comments that “Like members other groups, such as ethnic or religious minorities, gingers make a convenient target for the innate human desire to single out and ridicule people who are ‘different.’ ”
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your heart.”
— Red-haired entertainer Tim Minchin
The Redhead Gatherings
For redheads all over the world, there are festivals dedicated to celebrating their hair colour. In Ireland, about ten percent of the population has red hair so, of course, there’s an annual convention. It’s held in late August in the town of Crosshaven, County Cork. There is dancing, music, workshops, and the ever-popular carrot-toss competition.
But, it’s a town in Holland that lays claim to being the biggest gathering of copper-tops. The town of Breda plays host to thousands during its Readhead Days. It was started in 2005 by the artist Bart Rouwenhorst who is, of course, a blond.
Such jamborees are held in many other communities:
- Ginger Pride Day in Rome, Georgia, in March;
- Readhead Day U.K., London, in May;
- RossItalia, Milan, in May;
- Red Love Festival, Brittany, France, in August;
- Festival des Ch’tis Roux, Arras, France in October;
- Night of the Walking Red, Troy, New York, in October.
All of these gatherings welcome brunettes, blondes, and even baldies to help celebrate the glory of red hair.
- International Kiss a Ginger Day is January 12. It was triggered by an episode of South Park that contained a fictional event called Kick a Ginger Day that, predictably, encouraged a bunch of numbskulls to do just that. Flame-haired Irishman Derek Forgie countered by starting a positive day for redheads. Always ask permission first.
- Polish people say that if you pass three redheads in succession a lottery win will come your way. Of course, it might just be a free play again ticket.
- The founder of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, had a reddish tint in his hair that he inherited from his Scottish, white maternal grandfather. He hated his hair colour and the “Detroit Red” nickname he got while growing up.
- A tiny sampling of famous redheads includes: Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon Bonaparte, Vincent Van Gogh, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Antonio Vivaldi, Galileo Galilei, and Winston Churchill.
- “Of Course There’s an Annual Convention for Redheads, and it’s Awesome.” Suzy Strutner, HuffPost.com, August 22, 2016.
- “Redheads May Have Gene Advantage in Cloudy Climates.” Liz Neporent, health.com, November 9, 2012.
- “Should Ginger-Bashing Be Considered a Hate Crime?” Nelson Jones, New Statesman, January 10, 2013.
- “Gingerism Is Real, but not all Prejudices Are Equal to one Another.” Ally Fogg, The Guardian, January 13, 2015.
- “It’s International ‘Kiss A Ginger’ Day.” Jack Beresford, The Irish Post, January 12, 2021.
- “Calendar of Redhead Events 2021.”Gingerparrot.co.uk, undated.
- “For Redheads Only: Gingers Head to Holland for Their Biggest Festival in the World.” Cecilia Rodriguez, Forbes Magazine, August 19, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on April 15, 2021:
Very fascinating. It's funny how backward people always find a target for their delusional fears. I guess often these targets are whoever stands out for some reason.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 14, 2021:
Interesting and fun article about redheads, Rupert. I had no idea that climate has something to do with the original redheaded folks. I guess today, since many of our ancestors have been dispersed throughout the world, that it has more to do with genetics than location, with exceptions of course.