The Tale of Haint Blue Ceilings Down South
Once upon a time, in a land filled with cotton fields, Spanish moss and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, people were mysteriously painting their front porch ceilings a sky-blue color. Perplexed, the Northerner would ask, “Why is your porch ceiling blue?” Gazing down from a tall glass of sweet tea, the Southerner would politely answer, “None of your business.”
Ok, it probably never went down quite like that but yes, the South has many quirky traditions. While it’s always fun to confuse the Northerners, we continue these traditions because they are steeped into our Southerner roots like chicory coffee.
One of the most commonly found down here is painting your front porch ceiling a soft blue or “haint” color. You probably saw this delicate color covering the entire stretch of your Me-Maw’s porch ceiling and found yourself curious about its origins.
Why did she or anyone in the South have blue porch ceilings? Was it because it accented our home’s white columns so nicely? Was it an affordable paint color choice? Or was it (and I’m a firm believer) to mess with the Northerners?
Where it All Began
This custom actually began with the Gullah Geechee people who were descents of Central and West African slaves. The Gullah resided in the low country areas of the United States including Georgia and South Carolina. They would paint the exterior portions of the homes blue as a way to ward off spirits or “haints.” Nothing was off limits…shutters, doors, window frames, and of course, porch ceilings were painted in this color. The Gullahs believed the “haints” would confuse the light blue color with the sky and instead of entering the home, the spirits would pass on through the ceiling. (I wonder if this would work for door-to-door salesmen? Hmm…)
Some people also believed the “haints” were deathly (see what I did there?) afraid of water. If a haint came upon a home with this watery color hue, the spirit would avoid the residence all together.
The Insect Theory
If there is anything a Southerner despises more than a plate of cold biscuits it is an intense hatred of anything that flies that doesn’t have feathers. Insects are to front porches like Southerners are to Me-Maw’s fried okra. There is an intense gravitational pull with nothing to deter us but serve them to us blue and you might get some hesitation. Actually, the old Southern belief is a front porch with a blue ceiling can deter wasps (and possibly door-to-door salesmen). Like the “haints”, insects will confuse the blue ceiling with the sky and will avoid the building their nests in the corners of the porch.
Now, I am not one to argue with Me-Maw or anyone who believes these theories but adorning your porch with this shade of blue does give a welcoming, calming vibe to your entrance. And just like other Southern traditions like sweetening your tea and using your manners, painting your porch ceiling haint blue will never fade away.
If you find that that blue paint didn’t quite pan out like you thought it would, well then the ole saying goes… When Life Hands You Grapes… Make Wine.