The Meaning of the Colors of Thanksgiving

The Meaning of the Colors of Thanksgiving. (Image: katerinasergeevna/iStock/GettyImages)

Just as the colors of Christmas are traditionally red and green, the colors of Hanukkah are blue and silver and red by itself screams Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving is ripe with color symbolism too. The earthy brown of the turkey is offset by the vibrant colors of a fall harvest, giving thanks for abundance and good fortune and hope for what lies ahead.

Understanding Thanksgiving Symbols

When you think of Thanksgiving, what comes immediately to mind? The feast, of course, with turkey as the main feature. Next to that are the side dishes that were the result of a bountiful harvest for the Pilgrims, such as beans, corn, squash and carrots. That's why a cornucopia is one of the things that represents Thanksgiving, depicted overflowing with a wide selection of vegetables.

The abundant table Americans enjoy today has become the norm for celebrating Thanksgiving, but for the Pilgrims it was a miracle. They had experienced many hardships in their new land and were unfamiliar with the crops that could grow there. If not for the Native Americans, who showed them how to plant and grow corn and other vegetables, they wouldn't have had a harvest for which to be thankful and surely not such a bountiful feast. That's why the feast itself and Native Americans are Thanksgiving symbols too.

Recalling Thanksgiving Colors

Color is a powerful reminder of events, emotions and places. Although colors can have personal meanings that differ from one person to another, Thanksgiving's colors are fall's colors. When asked what these colors are, most people will have the same answers even if they haven't thought about the colors of the holiday before.

As the autumn leaves fall from the trees, in their dying state they exhibit gorgeous shades of yellow, gold, red and orange before turning brown. Is it a coincidence that the colors of the harvest in bloom are identical? Consider the orange pumpkins, the yellow and gold squash and gourds, the red berries and beets and of course the brown turkey.

The Meanings of Thanksgiving Colors

According to color theorists, colors have meanings about which people commonly agree. However, colors evoke both positive and negative feelings depending on the person and the situation. Since Thanksgiving is a time of thankfulness for food and family combined with hope for the future, it's more likely that people will have positive feelings about each Thanksgiving color.

The Meaning of Orange

Orange is the color of encouragement. It's inviting and motivational. For Thanksgiving, orange brings to mind pumpkin pies – comfort food that is both healthy and tasty – though the Pilgrims probably ate it as a vegetable rather than dessert.

The Meaning of Yellow

Yellow, the color of sunshine and squash, is uplifting and optimistic. When part of an array of colors, the eye gravitates to the yellow first. It's a positive attention getter and a beacon of light amidst the browns.

The Meaning of Brown

Brown is the color of earth and nature. While it can be considered boring, for Thanksgiving, brown is more likely to be thought of as steady and reliable, bearing the feelings of strength and solidity. You could say brown is a well-grounded color.

The Meaning of Green

Green is also a color of nature and a reminder of abundance and growth. Although it's a summer crop, the Pilgrims might have dried beans and served them at Thanksgiving as many people do today.

The Meaning of Red

Red is used sparingly at Thanksgiving, making it all the more noticeable. Just as there are few red leaves compared to the yellow, the Thanksgiving table has only a pop of red in the way of cranberries or beets. Similarly, red peeks out in the turkey's tail as a vibrant contrast to the brown.

Chances are the Pilgrims didn't give a thought to the colors on their Thanksgiving table. However, as the traditional foods have stayed much the same through the years, their colors have become ingrained in the minds of Americans when they celebrate Thanksgiving.

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