Dots of red and green lights outline the houses all down your street. These colors turn up everywhere you look this season, in the form of ornaments, gift-wrap, holiday dresses–Just to name a few. Even outside of the winter season, pairing green with red almost immediately elicits thoughts of Christmas cheer.
But why are red and green THE Christmas colors of choice? Other colors are present during Christmas (such as blue, yellow, gold, silver and white), but why do green and red tend to be given such importance? Why not some other color combination? What does it mean? And where did it begin?
Why are Green and Red The Colors of Christmas?:
Since i love adding a personal touch to these kinds of informational posts, i asked my Twitter followers what objects or ideas first pop into their minds when they think of the Christmas colors Red and Green. We’ll begin this post with their answers:
Associations: Candy Canes (4), Holly (3), Christmas Trees (2), Berries (2), Mistletoe (1), Tinsel (1), Christmas Lights (1), “even stop lights with their bright red and green.” (song) – Bing Crosby (1), Santa’s Elves (1), Nutcrackers (1), Winter Coats (1), Wrapping Paper (1), Pretty make-up on a girl (1), Slippers on a cold Winter morning (1), Christmas Crackers (1), Gingerbread Men (1), Christmas Cake (with thick white royal icing with holly leaves a red berries on top) (1). (We clearly love candy canes on Christmas!)
Green has long been a color that is reminiscent of life: and therefore hope. After nearly all plant life has died as Winter approaches, Winter-loving plants such as pine trees, holly, and mistletoe, remain alive and ever-green.
Through much of history, in many civilizations from Egypt to Rome, green has been used as a reminder of life, especially in the cold, dark days of Winter when much of life is hard to see.
Holly is one of the first Christmas items to come to mind, it is both green and red with its leaves and berries, and has been used in Winter festivities since the Romans used them to celebrate Saturnalia (which the early Catholics replaced with Christmas). It’s a sign of hope in dark Winter days since it is one of the only plants able to survive in freezing weather–it acts as a reminder that Spring and new life is just around the corner.
Some believe that holly began the tradition of red and green being Christmas colors.
Red is a color of passion. When viewed positively, it’s the color of excitement and love. It’s bright and cheery, and on a white landscape, it brings something vibrant and fun to space that has become like a blank canvas. It’s the happy color of candy canes, nutcrackers, Winter berries, and Santa Claus.
You know what surprised me, though? None of my Twitter friends mentioned Santa when listing Christmas things that Green and Red draw to mind!
Apparently, red and green weren’t the main colors to be used for Christmas during the Victorian era and up to the 20th century. Many of you may know that Santa wasn’t always portrayed as a big, jolly old man in a red suit–but was rather displayed in many other colors prior to the 1930s.
You know what changed that? Coca-Cola!
This new Santa helped solidify red in our minds as a color of Christmas cheer.
Additionally, in Christian tradition, red commonly symbolizes the blood of Jesus, while green represents Eternal Life. Some Christians enjoy this symbolism being attached to the Christmas colors, to remind them of baby Jesus ultimately coming to grow up and bring hope through his life and death.
Also interesting: during the Middle Ages in Europe, due to many people being illiterate, the churches began putting on plays to tell Bible stories. They called these “Miracle Plays”. December 24th was, at the time, a day set in remembrance of the story of Adam and Eve. On this day they had the “Paradise Play” which told of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. As a resourceful prop (Gotta use what you’ve got in the dead of Winter!) they used a pine tree and hung apples on it to represent the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This symbolism soon became a beloved part of Christmas tradition.
I recommend reading these posts, which i stumbled on while researching for this post, for more in-depth info:
- Why Are Red & Green Christmas Colors? By Carol McIntyre – My favorite of the posts! I enjoyed her approach to analyzing the colors through History, Religion, Nature, and Color Theory.
- How Red And Green Became The Colors Of Christmas. – How Coca-Cola forever changed Santa Claus.
What do Red and Green mean to you?
Do you have any symbolic stories you can share with us in the comments?