Color-blind yuletide

Posted On October 17, 2006

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Color-blind yuletide. You may observe Christmas, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, but everything looks a bit like a Hanukkah celebration to 8 percent of the male population. For people with red-green color blindness, an estimated one in 12 men, only blues and yellows are visible as vivid shades, while reds and greens appear brownish and murky.

“Red-green color vision defects are not that rare,” said Arthur Bradley, a professor of optometry at Indiana University. “The term ‘color blindness’ is used to describe limited color vision, usually with respect to reds and greens. Blue-yellow vision is very rarely affected.”

While the acres of highly colorful red and green decorations in shops, homes and offices nationwide may appear monochromatic or washed-out to people with limited color vision, the Jewish winter festivities won’t change greatly in their eyes. Hanukkah decorations often incorporate blue and white, the colors of Israel, and gold colors may be present in the menorah and other traditional motifs. These blues and yellows look much the same to people with red-green color vision defects as to those with normal vision, but fruitcakes, holly, and red and green Kwanzaa candles all appear to be a shade of brown.

Gazing at decorations may not present a practical challenge but preparing the holiday meal is undoubtedly more difficult for people who cannot distinguish reds and greens, Bradley said. “Judging when meat is cooked is a challenge for people with color vision defects,” he said. “Determining the ripeness of fruit and vegetables is another problem.” Selecting an outfit, interpreting traffic signals and following sports on television are other color-vision challenges that may affect festivities, Bradley said.

Although color blindness is common among men, very few women have the condition. “There are several different types of color blindness, but nearly all are much more common in males, because the genes coding the condition are recessive on the x-chromosome,” Bradley said. “Men have only one x chromosome and women have two, so if a man inherits the gene he will be color blind, but a woman will not unless she inherits it from both parents.”

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