Color Symbolism in Different Cultures Around the World

Colorful people around globe symbolizing colors in different cultures around the world

So much of our daily lives is impacted by color. Whether we consciously take note of it or not, our perceptions of color impact how we feel about things. Color impacts everything from our perceptions of branding to whether or not we like or dislike something based on what we see. The ways in which color impacts us are truly fascinating.

The thing about color is that perceptions are not universal. Psychology Today contributor Gregory Ciotti made that very argument in a 2014 piece in which he cited a mountain of evidence. While I may not agree with everything in the article, his contention is that our perceptions of color are driven by a variety of things including individual preferences and cultural conditioning. It is the latter that matters for the purposes of this post.

Simply put, colors mean different things in different parts of the world. The symbolism behind a variety of colors is subject to cultural conditioning. Your perceptions of red may differ drastically from those of someone living in another part of the world. The differences may be primarily due to culture.

Red Color Symbolism

Happy couple with red heart-shaped balloons on colored background symbolizing passion and love

Red is one of those universal colors that tends to take center stage whenever it is utilized. It is the color of cherries, apples and blood. A variety of national flags from around the world incorporate red in some way. It is a color that is often associated with religious practice as well.

North America and Europe

Red is a color of passion and emotion in North American and European cultures. It can be associated with love, as in Valentine’s day celebrations. It can also be associated with anger and danger. North American and European cultures frequently associate red with energy and youth.

Central and South America

Red also symbolizes passion and emotion in Central and South America. More importantly, it is used extensively in combination with white for religious practices. This makes sense given the preponderance of Christianity in Latin America. Christianity associates red with the blood of Christ and the crucifixion.

Asian Countries

Asian cultures are more likely to view red as a color associated with prosperity. Asians see red and think of long life and good luck. In China, red symbolizes honor and success. Where American brides are more apt to wear white gowns at their weddings, Chinese brides prefer red. They associate the color with honor and success in their marriages as demonstrated by fertility and long-lasting love.

Yellow Color Symbolism

Woman wearing Japanese kimono near yellow ginkgo trees symbolizing bravery and prosperity

Yellow is a color with universal appeal. This could be because we associate it with sunshine. Yellow is the color of daffodils, daisies and sunflowers. It is a spring color that speaks of new life and new beginnings. Yet it does offer differing symbolism in different cultures.

Africa and the Middle East

Yellow symbolizes wealth and status in Africa. That might seem strange to Western brains more apt to think of wealth and status in terms of gold and purple. In the Middle East, yellow symbolizes mourning. It is an especially mournful color in Egypt. Latin American countries tend to see mourning as well.


Asia is a mixed bag when it comes to yellow. It is a royal color in Japan and is associated with bravery and prosperity. Luck is the primary symbolism of yellow in Thailand, while in China it is often linked to pornography. China’s take on yellow is rather curious.

North America and Europe

In North America and Europe, we associate yellow with sunshine and good weather. That’s why it is a spring color to us. Some say yellow is also associated with hospitality in the West, though Germany and France might disagree. Yellow is a color of jealousy and envy in those two countries.

Blue Color Symbolism

Blue Nazar charms on the branches of a tree used to ward off evil in Cappadocia in Turkey

Blue rounds out the set of three primary colors. It is generally considered a cool color for interior decorating purposes. Blue skies immediately come to mind when thinking about this color, but it does have a variety of meanings around the world.

Eastern Europe and West/Central Asia

A number of nations in Eastern Europe and West and Central Asia associate blue with the ability to ward off evil. Could that be why the Greek flag is heavy on blue? Maybe not. It is probably associated with Greek mythology or the banners carried by Alexander the Great’s armies. At any rate, it’s not unusual in this part of the world to see blue amulets believed to keep evil spirits away.

Western Cultures

Blue tends to represent tranquility and sadness in Western cultures. In some countries, its symbolism also includes authority and trust. Pop culture symbolism tends to go with sadness quite frequently, as in references to feeling blue.

Eastern Cultures

Strength is a common symbolism of blue in the East. It is frequently associated with Hinduism thanks to the religion’s main deity, Krishna, often being presented with blue skin. Some Asian cultures recognize blue as denoting long life, healing, and even immortality in some cases. It is a color of relaxation for purposes of interior decorating.

Central and South America

Blue is most associated with mourning in Central and South America. It can indicate mourning in the Middle East, but countries in that part of the world are more likely to derive connotations of spirituality and protection from it.

Green Color Symbolism

Top view of green four-leaf clovers symbolizing luck

Green has taken on a whole new meaning over the last 40 years thanks to an increasing consciousness of environmental concerns. The environmental movement adopting green as its primary color is no coincidence. After all, green is one of the most prevalent colors in nature.

North America and Europe

North America and most of Western Europe associate green with good luck. A case in point is the green four leaf clover. Western cultures sometimes associate green with jealousy, though such a connotation isn’t as common as good luck. Thanks to its association with traffic lights, green is a symbol of progress.

Asia and the Middle East

Countries in Asia and the Middle East tend to lean more toward the natural aspects of green. The prevalence of green in nature leads to cultural symbolism denoting fertility, prosperity, good fortune and so forth. It is one of the more prominent colors of Islam and often associated with youth. Curiously, green denotes infidelity in China.

Central and South America

Green is up for grabs in Central and South America. For example, it is one of Mexico’s national colors. You see it on the Mexican flag along with white and red. Green and red are as patriotic to Mexicans as red and blue are to Americans. Further south, green can symbolize death in some cultures.

Purple Color Symbolism

Purple magic pot where this color symbolizes wealth in many cultures

Purple is nearly universal as a symbol of wealth. Why? Because purple dye was terribly expensive to produce in centuries past. Only the wealthy could afford it. Thus, purple became the color of kings and queens. Much of that symbolism remains today.

Latin and South America

The one exception to purple as a general symbolism of wealth is found in Latin and South America. In many countries in that part of the world, purple denotes death. It is as common for mourning as black is in North America.

Orange Color Symbolism

Sacred Indian orange prayer beads

Orange is a bold and beautiful color that tends to grab one’s attention. It is the color of fire and autumn leaves. It is a color that doesn’t necessarily have the same universal appeal as red, black and white.

North America and Europe

Orange is most frequently connected with the autumn season in North America and Europe. As such, we associate it with things like Halloween and the agricultural harvest. It has religious connotations among some Protestants, especially in northern Ireland. Orange is a royal color in the Netherlands.

Central and South America

Countries in Central and South America view orange as one of the primary colors of nature. It is almost always associated with the earth and sun in terms of culture and religious practice. Even among secularists, orange still seems to have spiritual connotations.

Asian Countries

China and Japan associate orange with good things. It can be a symbol of financial prosperity or good health. It can be associated with general happiness, courage and good fortune. Things are different elsewhere. For example, orange is a sacred color in India. It is an important part of the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

Black Color Symbolism

Black tuxedo suit symbolizing formality and high society

Black may have the widest variety of meanings in different parts of the world. And why not? Black isn’t technically a color unto itself. Black is derived from the absorption of all of the light waves in the visible spectrum. You could say that black is no light and all pigments. By the way, that’s why black objects left in the sun get very hot. They absorb all the light and its associated energy.

Europe and North America

Death and mourning are the two most common ideas associated with black in the West. Western funerals have featured black for centuries. Beyond the death and mourning, black is a color that can be associated with high society and formality. This is why most tuxedos are black. It’s also why we talk about black-tie affairs.

Asian Countries

Black is a more positive color in countries like China and Japan. It is a very popular color among young boys in China, denoting youthful vigor and energy. Likewise, it is a popular color for girls in Japan. Japanese culture associates femininity and mystery with black. One exception in Asia is India. Black is seen as more evil than good in India.

Africa and the Middle East

Some Middle Eastern countries associate black with death, mourning, and evil. It is also a color denoting mystery. Africans look at black and tend to see masculinity. It can be a symbol of maturity in some African cultures and is not normally associated with death here.

White Color Symbolism

White lily in flower garden symbolizes purity

Just as black is not a color unto itself, neither is white. White is actually the reflection of all light waves in the visible spectrum. It is all light and no pigment. Nonetheless, it is seen nearly universally as a color of purity. White is a very common color for wedding dresses and baptismal gowns for that very reason.


White is associated with purity throughout most of Africa. But in some African countries, it also symbolizes good luck and prosperity. It can be associated with peace and prosperity in small pockets of Africa.

Eastern Europe and Asia

In addition to purity, there are places in eastern Europe and Asia where white is associated with death. It can also be a color denoting bad fortune and general unhappiness.

In Summary

The color associations described in this post are by no means scientifically derived. They are general assertions based on cultural references. In closing, remember what I talked about earlier. How we perceive color is heavily dependent on a variety of factors that change from one person to the next. The symbolism you attach to one color might be completely different from another person’s interpretation. That said, I still believe colors have general meanings that many people perceive the same way.