Christmas is a time for family, celebration, and for many people, for worship. And like most holidays, it has its own distinctive color palette. In almost every case, that palette includes red and green, although those aren’t the only Christmas colors.
But have you ever stopped to think about why Christmas colors are what they are? Each color we associate with this special holiday has a rich historical and symbolic meaning.
Christmas Colors and Their Meanings
Here are 10 of the most common Christmas colors and the meanings behind them.
When you think of Christmas colors, red and green are probably the first ones that come to mind. But have you ever wondered how these hues came to be associated with Christmas?
It’s generally believed that both red and green were first associated with the winter solstice. Ancient Celts decorated their homes with holly during this time — it brought a burst of color during bleak winter, and it was thought to bring good fortune, too.
Holly also came to be symbolic of Christians. The Celts believed that the spiky green leaves were reminiscent of Christ’s crown of thorns, and the red berries symbolized Christ’s blood. Over time, the long-standing tradition of decorating with holly led to decorating with red and green.
Oddly enough, a series of Coca-Cola magazine ads really solidified both red and green as contemporary Christmas colors. Artist Haddon Sundblom created a collection of illustrated ads showing Santa Claus dressed in brilliant red, visiting children, delivering presents, and of course, drinking Coca-Cola.
The ads also featured deep green backgrounds and lettering. So for many, these shades of red and green came to symbolize Christmas. Whether you’re decorating with holly and poinsettias or red and green Christmas lights (or both!), this rich tradition carries on today.
Red and green share essentially the same Christmas-color origin story. And when it comes to holiday decorations, you rarely see one color without the other.
The original sources of the green found in Christmas decorations are evergreen plants, thought to represent Christ’s eternal life. The first evergreens used to decorate for Christmas were holly boughs and ivy clippings. But today, the Christmas tree (usually a pine, spruce, or fir tree) is the quintessential burst of green in any decoration scheme.
But how did we get from decorating with holly branches to bringing entire trees into our homes? In Judith Flanders’s book Christmas: A Biography, she notes that the earliest decorated trees date back to Germany in the Middle Ages — as early as the 1400s!
Of course, there were no mass-produced ornaments or colorful garlands back then. These early trees were decorated with gingerbread, apples, wafers, tinsel, straw, pretzels, and nuts.
Many of us associate the white of snowy landscapes with Christmas. That’s certainly part of why it’s a Christmas color, but as you may already know, white is a color that’s rich with symbolism in its own right.
In Western culture, white is a color connected to both purity and peace. The birth of Jesus was an illustration of the purity of God’s love for humanity, and it was also a sign of peace on Earth.
Some people also believe that white became a Christmas color because of the white wafers used to decorate early Christmas trees. While you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you can add this symbolic shade to your decoration scheme, too!
Brown might not be the most glamorous color there is, but it’s a common part of many Christmas decoration schemes. Its humble earthiness is reminiscent of the stable where Jesus was born. It’s also the color of pinecones, and you often see it in the form of burlap and twine used in more rustic decorative palettes.
In a season full of bright, glittering colors, brown is a gentle reminder to stay humble. After all, Christmas centers around Jesus, the son of God, and he had some of the most humble beginnings of all.
Gold is a richly-colored metallic that looks right at home against deep green and crimson red. But that’s not the only reason it’s become widely known as a Christmas color. The three kings (also called the Magi or the Wise Men) rode across the desert to see the newly-born Jesus, and they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We know gold as the most precious of precious metals. Frankincense is an aromatic tree resin often used in perfumery, and myrrh is another tree resin used in medicine and as a fragrance.
Of course, tree resins don’t have the same alluring color as glimmering gold. Gold also has a connection to royalty, so it’s a nod to God’s all-encompassing power and glory.
When you think of metallic shades and Christmas, gold is probably the first one that comes to mind. However, especially for anyone leaning toward a more vintage-inspired decoration scheme, bronze is an equally good choice.
As metals go, bronze is fairly demure, but that quality makes it fit in nicely with just about any color. You can include bronze in a metallic decoration scheme with copper, gold, and silver. But you can also add it as a grounding influence in a more traditional red and green scheme.
So why include bronze in a palette of Christmas colors? Bronze is a shade associated with strength and groundedness. Christmas is a time of faith, and including bronze in your decoration scheme symbolizes both the strength of faith and the strength of God’s love for the world.
You’ve probably heard Christmas songs about silver bells, but that’s not the reason silver has become one of the classic Christmas colors. Silver is associated with the Star of Bethlehem, the star that the Wise Men followed in order to find the baby Jesus.
Silver also reminds us of snowy landscapes, which may be part of why it features so prominently in so many decoration schemes. It pairs nicely with just about every Christmas color, but it looks especially beautiful alongside blue and white.
When you imagine Christmas colors, purple probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind. However, purple is an integral part of Christmas, or at the very least, it’s a part of the weeks leading up to it.
In Christianity, purple is associated with Jesus Christ. It’s the color of royalty, and Jesus is regarded as the King of Kings. Purple is also associated with sorrow and repentance, which is why Advent wreaths prominently feature purple candles.
What’s an Advent wreath? Most Christian denominations celebrate Advent, the four-week period leading up to Christmas. Each Sunday of Advent is marked by the lighting of a candle on a wreath. The first, second, and fourth candles are purple, symbolizing the prayerful, sorrowful time of waiting for Jesus.
The third candle on the wreath is a rosy pink. This candle commemorates Gaudete Sunday — “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice,” and this day celebrates the nearness of Christmas.
Though it may not be one of the best-known Christmas colors, blue is still associated with this joyful holiday. In particular, blue has historically been connected to the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother. The shade represents her purity, captures the beauty of the sky, and marks her as royalty.
In some instances, blue is also connected to Advent. The color purple is connected to both Advent and Lent (the time leading up to Easter). To distinguish the two periods, some Christians choose to use royal blue candles (instead of purple candles) for their Advent wreaths. In this context, blue also symbolizes Jesus’s royalty, hope, and the night sky before dawn.
Red and purple are both Christmas colors, and burgundy strikes a middle ground between the two. It combines the joyful intensity of red with the quiet prayerfulness of purple.
From a design perspective, burgundy is also a great color to incorporate into your decoration scheme. It’s deep enough to ground lighter shades like white and silver. It’s also an alternative to red if you’re looking to create a more muted color scheme — the combination of bronze and burgundy is effectively a toned-down combination of red and gold.
Bring Color Into Your Christmas
During the Christmas season, there’s no shortage of things to celebrate. Whether you’re commemorating a religious holiday, taking the time to reconnect with family, celebrating the beauty of the winter season, or all of the above, these iconic colors of the season will help you do it!