The colours of Christmas
What colours are associated with Christmas? In the first of two festive blogs, we take a look at some of the colours we traditionally associate with Christmas.
Most people, particularly in western Europe, think of red, green and gold. Whilst some attribute the popularity of these colours to the Victorians, the colours have a symbolic meaning which goes back through the centuries. Although the Victorians embraced Christmas and introduced a number of the traditions we still see today, the significance of the colours goes back through history to the Middle Ages and possibly earlier.
Red and green have a long history which is rooted in both paganism and Christianity. Research has highlighted the use of red and green on rood screens in churches, dating from as early as the 14th century. Rood screens, usually richly carved wood or stone, separated the nave from the chancel and were found throughout western Europe from the 14th–16th centuries. Although few examples now remain, the majority were painted in red and green so the use of these colours at Christmas would have been deeply symbolic.
The colours and their meanings also come from wider northern European traditions, when Christmas is in the middle of winter and it’s dark and cold.
Evergreen plants such as holly and mistletoe have been used for many years to bring colour into the winter months and to remind people that spring will come eventually. This isn’t just a Christian tradition, as apparently the Romans set aside specific dates in December as holidays and they would exchange evergreen branches as a sign of good luck. More recently, green is represented by the Christmas tree, although trends are changing and they now seem to come in any colour you wish. In many parts of the world the red and green poinsettia plant is a common Christmas decoration, as are the amaryllis and Christmas cactus.
Red is also associated with holly berries and the red of Bishop’s robes, and also the colour of Santa’s suit. It’s bright and colourful, and represents the joy of Christmas.
Gold is another warming colour at a traditionally cold time of year. It was one of the presents given to baby Jesus by the wise men and the colour of the star followed.
So although trends change, red, green and gold remain the most universally accepted colours of Christmas and with a tradition that goes back through the centuries, it’s unlikely this will change anytime soon.
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