The History of Christmas Colors

Red and green symbolize priests and parishioners.
... Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images

Red, green, silver, gold, blue and white are all colors associated with Christmas. Each color has historical meaning, with roots in western and northern European traditions and customs. Traditionally, the most popular colors associated with Christmas are red and green. Used for both practical and religious reasons, today, these color represent Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas.

1 In the Beginning

The Victorians revitalized the red and green colors, adapting the customs from centuries earlier. According to University of Cambridge research scientist Dr. Spike Bucklow, medieval rood screens dating back to the 14th and 16th centuries were discovered that portrayed saints and parishioners painted red and green because of the available pigment at the time. However, there may have been additional symbolic meaning behind the colors that date back even further. The colors suggest the sectioning of church between priests and parishioners. According to Bucklow, the Victorians, who later restored the medieval churches, recognized the color-coding and established that the colors would signify the ending of one year and the beginning of another at Christmastime.

2 The Paradise Tree

The color green, a significant Christmas color, gets its meaning from the Christmas tree. Historians suggest that Christmas trees, which originated in medieval times, symbolized the Garden of Eden in theatrical plays. Nativity plays depicted the story of creation, and a “paradise tree” hung with fruit, symbolized the Garden of Eden, or the feast day of Adam and Eve, which took place on Christmas Eve. By the 16th century, when some countries banned nativity plays, the Christmas tree moved into churches and homes.

3 Colored by Coke

The Christmas color red originated from the red apples hung on the paradise tree and the red holly berry, often associated with Jesus’ blood. According to the Coca-Cola Company, the original Saint Nicholas was depicted wearing red bishop’s robes or tanned animal skins, and even resembled an elf-like figure. However, in 1930, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Fred Mizen to paint a department store Santa drinking a bottle of coke. Mizen painted Santa Claus wearing the bright red and white colors, associated with Christmas today, for shopping-related advertisements in magazines such as the “Evening Post.” Later, illustrator Haddon Sundblom further shaped Santa Claus’ image by making him plump and jolly.

4 Festive Colors of Christmas

Beyond the festive red and green colors associated with Christmas are the traditional colors blue, silver, gold and white. In earlier days, only royalty and the wealthy wore garments dyed blue because of the high cost of pigment. Mary, Jesus’ mother, was often depicted wearing blue to signify her importance. Gold, a traditional Christmas color, represents the gift of gold given to baby Jesus by one of the wise men, and silver represents the star, which the wise men followed to find the baby Jesus. Christmas white originates from white communion wafers hung on paradise trees. However, white also represents purity of spirit and even snow.

Katherine Macropoulos has authored two books; a fictional, young reader and a spiritual autobiography. Her areas of expertise include food, beauty and style, travel, culture and society, business and spirituality. Macropoulos holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, a diploma in photography, graphic design and marketing and certification in esthetics.