The Meaning of the Colors of Christmas

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The combination of red and green, images of white snow against a dark sky, and Santa's signature look in red and white are top among the colors of Christmas. Metallic shades of gold and silver also feature throughout the holiday season, seen on twinkling Christmas ornaments, foil-embossed Christmas cards and tinsel-strewn Christmas trees.

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Looking into the history and meanings behind these colors and their association with the season returns mixed messages. Some historians attribute today's Christmas colors to pre-Christian traditions, while other scholars might point to biblical associations between colors and nativity themes.

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Embrace your own personal interpretation of these interesting origin stories to add meaning to your own color choices around Christmas decorations and craft projects.

Winter solstice and colors of nature

Festivals and celebrations around the winter solstice, which occurs a few days before Christmas, were widespread across ancient cultures. Many pagan rituals, plus their associated colors, were incorporated into Christmas traditions during the Middle Ages and endure today. The following Christmas colors have these ancient origins:

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  • Red
  • Green
  • White

Ancient Celts used holly, with its glossy green leaves and bright red berries, as a symbol of prosperity and good luck. It is believed that they brought holly boughs and evergreen branches into their homes as colorful decorations during dark winters. Other evergreens, such as mistletoe, pine trees and fir trees, have similar symbolism. For Celts, the Norse and ancient Germanic peoples, these plants represent the continuation of life through the harsh, dark winters of northern Europe.

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Remember the ancient origins of the red and green color scheme around Christmas when you put up a Christmas tree, wrap it with a red and green plaid tree skirt, string cranberries for a garland or make a holly wreath.

The winter season

The winter season is also an obvious inspiration for white as one of the traditional Christmas colors. Winters in northern Europe, where many contemporary holiday traditions originate, are often snowy and icy. The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year. This translates into the color white, motifs of snow and ice, and dark skies with twinkling stars all being ubiquitous around the holiday.

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The theme of white for Christmas is popular even in regions around the world with very different climates. You might not get real snow, but you can always make fake snow for craft projects, and choose a winter wonderland theme for your holiday decor.

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Biblical connections of Christmas colors

Red, green and white might have pagan roots as Christmas colors, but they have special significance to Christians as well. These colors are:

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  • White
  • Red
  • Green
  • Gold
  • Purple

White‌ represents spiritual purity and peace, with Jesus Christ often symbolized as a white dove or white lamb. The color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, while green represents renewal and eternal life. Some Christians evoke holly as a representation of Jesus's crown of thorns, and the red holly berries as his blood.

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Purple‌, as a traditional color of royalty, also has its place in Christmas color schemes. This has biblical origins, as Jesus is considered the "King of Kings." Gold is associated with the nativity story as it is one one of the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the three wise men. Gold is also the color of the Star of Bethlehem, which the wise men followed on their way to the birth of Jesus.

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Gold‌, along with other metallic colors, also broadly represents richness and a special occasion, a theme sustained all the way to contemporary Christmas holiday decor. Incorporate gold into your Christmas crafts by making a wire-wrapped star ornament for your tree.

Modern Santa’s signature colors

You might have heard that the Coca-Cola company "invented" Santa Claus as we know him. This isn't exactly true, but the company launched a very successful marketing campaign from the 1930s that popularized the image of Santa dressed in red and white.

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The color scheme matches the iconic coke logo, but red and white as a Christmas color combo surpassed the Coca-Cola campaign and became a holiday classic in its own right.

Candy canes with red and white stripes are a seasonal treat as well as Christmas tree decor. Scandinavian Christmas crafts also emphasize a red and white color scheme.

Choose red and white for all kinds of holiday decorations and crafts. You could make giant candy canes as lawn decor, or teach the kids some traditional Swedish Christmas crafts.

Choose your own Christmas colors

While traditional Christmas colors and color combinations have interesting secular and religious origins, there are no rules about how to bring them into your home for the holidays. Classic or modern, chic or cutesy, rustic or refined—all these styles can be fitting for the time of year if you select a festive color palette. Choose your favorite among the classic Christmas colors for your decor and crafts, and put your own personal spin on them.

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