Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The History of Christmas Colors


Only two more days until the official start of the Christmas season begins and homes everywhere begin to decorate in the familiar, and colorful shades of red and green of Christmas. Recently, on an internet blog I saw a suggestion for a black Christmas tree trimmed in gold. The post called it a sleek, modern look for an adult gathering.


I get the gold part, and gold shows up a lot in my Christmas d├ęcor. After all one of the wisemen brought the baby Jesus a gift of gold. Maybe if I stretch my imagination far enough I could say the black represents the sin Christ came to conquer. But, black will never be the new red and green in my house.

Have you ever wondered why the colors of Christmas are red, green, gold, and white? Here are a few possibilities I’ve dug up for you to ponder.

  • The Paradise play, a drama recounting Genesis 3 —the fall of Adam and Eve into sin and God’s promise of a Redeemer born of a woman—was performed in medieval times during advent. The Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve ate, was often depicted using a pine tree with red apples pinning on it. The decorated tree that began as a prop for the Paradise play was so popular that people began to put pine trees up in their homes during the holiday, decorating them with red apples. The idea spread and both Christmas trees and the color combination of red and green began its transformation into the official colors of Christmas
  • Red is also the color of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross.
  • Red is also the color of Bishops robes—robes that later became associated with St. Nicholas and later became the color of Santa’s suit.
  • Dr Spike Bucklow from the University of Cambridge’s Hamilton Kerr Institute says “One can trace the roots of this colour coding (red and green) back through the centuries, to a time when the colours themselves had symbolic meaning, possibly as a way of accentuating a significant division or a boundary.” He also thinks, based on his research of the art history of medieval rood screens which date from the 14th to the 16th centuries and were used to separate the nave from the chancel of churches, the use of those red and green by the church may have been a question of pigment availability. Most of the screen he studied appeared to be painted in red and green. Over the years, modern humanity has lost the meaning of the colors, which would have been readily apparent to even the lowest of peasants.
  • Green reminded the ancients that spring would come—a reminder they needed much more than we, with our bright electrically lit homes, would need during dark, clouded winter days.
  • Green symbolizes the continuous life cycle, as does the birth of Christ who gives us hope of an eternal life.
  • Greens, particularly evergreens like mistletoe, holly, and ivy were often used to brighten home during long, dark winters. For pagan believers some of these plants held religious meanings. When the pagans were converted to Christianity, general knowledge of the sacred meanings of the plants diminished, but not their use—or the popularity of the color—in our holiday traditions.

So, you can put up a black tree decorated in gold balls and tinsel, but for me and my house—we prefer red and green!

What about you? Do you decorate with red and green at Christmas? Or do you prefer the silver/white and blue—the colors of winter? Or something even farther out there?


  1. I use green and red but I also have some silver/white and blue. Sounds like a mishmash but we like it!

  2. Silver and blue is pretty, too. Those colors often find their way into the winter dishes and placemats I use. Thanks for dropping by.

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  4. Red and green are the staples, but thankfully they can fit quite nicely with silver and blues, or golds. This year our colors are going to be most every one on the rainbow b/c the kids get to make the decorations. :)

  5. Definitely a green tree, with colored lights. None of those white lights for me!

  6. I like white lights best. They remind me of twinkling stars.