Why Are Hanukkah Colors Blue and White (or Silver)?

Blue colored greeting card with traditional Hanukkah objects hanging on top

During the holiday season, the colors blue and white or silver are a common sight, and most people recognize these colors as a symbol of Hanukkah. Many people, however, may not know why these colors are used to symbolize the holiday or what they represent to those of the Jewish faith.

Why Blue and White Colors?

Blue and white were first used as colors representing the Jewish faith in 1864. That year, the poem “Judah’s Colours” was published by Ludwig August Frankl, a Jewish poet. In the poem, Frankl writes that blue and white are the colors of Judah. He goes on to say that white represents the “radiance of the priesthood” while blue brings to mind the “splendors of the firmament.” It’s quite possible that these two colors gained popularity amongst Jewish people, particularly for use over Hanukkah, due to the poem.

Another explanation for the use of blue and white is that these are the two colors that make up the flag of Israel. The flag was designed in 1891, not long after Frankl’s poem was published. The Zionist movement, which designed the flag, modeled the flag on traditional Jewish prayer shawls, which utilize the same blue and white striped pattern. The flag may also have been based on a blue and white flag first flown in 1885 in the village of Rishon LeZion. Although it was used unofficially for many years, Israel’s flag, which features two large blue stripes at the top and bottom as well as a blue Star of David on a white background, didn’t become the official flag until 1948, the same year that the country gained independence from the British Empire.

What Blue Represents

Traditional Jewish tallit prayer shawl with blue stripes over a Torah scroll

In Judaism, blue stripes are used on a traditional prayer shawl, called a tallit. This use of blue comes from a Bible story in which the Israelites are told to dye a single thread in the tassels of their tallitot with a particular blue dye made from sea snails. They were to do this so that they could look at the thread and remember “all the commandments of the Lord.” At the time during which the story takes place, this dye would have been not only very popular but also a status symbol. The coloring was often seen on the clothing or personal items of the wealthy upper class, so using it on a thread in a tallit would have demonstrated how important the shawls were.

Over time, the particular dye that the Israelites originally used became much rarer, and the practice of using it to dye the threads of the tassels on a tallit stopped. Some time later, however, Jewish people began using a stripe of blue in their prayer shawls to remember this tradition.

The blue striping carried over not only to the prayer shawls and, later, the Jewish flag, but also to many different Hanukkah decorations. Blue and white or silver striping is commonly seen on candles, lights, or ornaments used to decorate for the holiday.

The blue snail dye was a rich, dark indigo color, but as time passed and dyeing practices changed, the blue used on tallitot became lighter. This color change is reflected in both the stripes and star on the flag of Israel, which are a much lighter shade than the original, as well as the bright blue used for Hanukkah.

Blue also has other meanings in a more general sense, which might contribute to its use as a color representing Hanukkah. Blue often represents the sky, which could be seen as a reflection of God’s work and creations. Blue can also mean serenity, loyalty, and trust. Blue is generally considered to be a peaceful, harmonic color.

What White Represents

Jewish men wearing white tallitot and praying in synagogue

Unlike the blue used for Hanukkah and the flag of Israel, why white is used doesn’t have such a clear-cut answer. White often represents peace, honor, and purity, not only in Judaism but in cultures around the world. This may be one reason why it was chosen for the poem, the flag, and, eventually, the Festival of Lights. White is also the color most often used for prayer shawls, but this isn’t always the case.

As Frankl’s poem suggests, white can also represent the purity and holiness of the highest practitioners of the Jewish faith. Similarly, the white coloring can represent divine benevolence, called Chesed in Hebrew.

Where Does Silver Come In?

Instead of white, silver is often used on Hanukkah decorations or cards. Silver doesn’t have any true connection to either the holiday or the Jewish religion. However, the holiday season is often considered to be a time for sparkle and pizzazz, and silver is seen as a more festive color. This is why it often replaces white on Hanukkah ornaments or candles.

Silver is also often the color of menorahs, although they can also be gold, bronze, or any other color. This may be one of the reasons why silver, as opposed to white, has become such a popular color for the holiday.

Why Hanukkah Has a Color Scheme

Kid celebrating Hanukkah and the Jewish Festival of Lights

In most parts of the world, including Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated as a minor holiday. It’s not generally considered to be one of the biggest, flashiest, or most important holidays in the Jewish faith. However, this isn’t the case in North America, where Hanukkah is extremely popular and heavily celebrated. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s celebrated around the same time as Christmas. This is also probably why Hanukkah developed a color scheme.

Christmas has its own color scheme, and companies such as Hallmark or other greeting card, decoration, or retail businesses can easily design products that fit these colors or the holiday’s theme. It’s quite likely that these same companies wanted to do something similar for Hanukkah in order to sell more products, so they crafted a color scheme that would make selling specialized products simpler. A color scheme also helped families, particularly those with children, feel like they were part of the holiday season celebration. Once Hanukkah had its own colors, Jewish people could decorate for the holidays like many of their friends and neighbors, all while proudly displaying the celebration of their faith.