Americans love to celebrate holidays, and there is not a time of the year when we are not in a holiday season. While the most familiar holiday colors are spring pastels and the winter hues of red and green, we will find there are colors with significant meanings associated not only with holiday seasons, but also with specific holidays.
If you’re wondering why colors are often associated with holidays, you should first understand that colors are primarily associated with emotions. And, it is that holiday spirit with all the accompanying emotions that tends to link a color with a specific holiday.
Think of the cool color palettes. This includes the darker shades of green, blue, and purple. During the holiday seasons, these colors can signify health, security, or beauty, but as far as emotions, cool colors represent a calm and serene state of mind.
Then you have the soft, pastel colors of spring, which are bright but less saturated, meaning they are paler and less intense. These powdery, soft colors tend to represent regeneration and new beginnings.
Finally, the warm colors of red, yellow, and orange are associated with happiness, energy, and fun. While many people think red is a color primarily associated with anger, that is partly an invention of television and marketing due to the need to link hot emotions to colors. The obvious choice was red.
Then there are the two primary shades of black and white. While white is associated with purity and life, black tends to be a color closely linked to dark emotions or death.
Holiday Colors and Their Meanings
Let’s continue to probe into how the meaning of certain colors is linked to specific holidays. Here are some of the most important holiday colors:
Red – Valentine’s Day
Red is the color associated with Valentine’s Day. Why? Because red is often associated with passion, love, joy, sex, and vigor. Consider the psychology of the color red and how our brain has been acclimated towards this warm, but vibrant color. This fiery hue is often associated with anger in psychological circles. But actually, anger is simply a passionate display of emotion, even though it is sometimes a negative emotion.
Red can also elicit very strong emotions, even indirectly. While animals are color-blind, and a bullfighter could just as well wave a white flag to motivate the bull to charge, a red cape is used to generate more excitement for the human audience. That’s why a red cape is used in bullfighting.
Red is also the color associated with health – especially the heart and blood, which makes red the perfect choice for this hot-blooded St. Valentine’s Day celebration. It is customary to give your loved one sweet treats or a sweet gift. A visit to your local supermarket or department store will find shelves packed with red foil-wrapped chocolates and Valentine’s Day cards with red as a strong element.
And, if you want to decorate your home for a St. Valentine’s Day celebration, then consider using red, pink, or white candles or soft red lighting to set the right mood. If you want to incorporate the passion of this holiday into your wardrobe, choose a red tie or cap, red stilettos, and for the quiet evening you may have planned with someone special, red lingerie is always the right choice.
Read more about the colors of Valentine’s Day.
Green – St. Patrick’s Day
Green is the color that is definitely associated with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Across the nation, rivers turn green using a proprietary dye that is perfectly safe for humans, water, and wildlife. People everywhere paint their faces green, wear green clothing, and embellish their homes with green decorations.
But, how did the color green become associated with this Irish holiday, and how does the meaning of the color green weigh in on these annual celebrations?
Green is the color of nature, and it signifies rejuvenation, abundance, and renewal. We associate the color green with health and harmony, a relaxing color that tends to make people feel safe and secure. Psychologically, the color green strikes a balance between emotions and thoughts.
It is likely that a strong connection between green and nature (leaves, grass, trees, forests) is why the color is both refreshing and tranquil. On the other hand, like with all colors, green also has an alter ego.
Green is associated with jealousy, envy, and even illness. Being ‘green with envy’ means a person is so jealous that they have become emotionally ill. But, what about the great patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, and why the color green is used to celebrate this holiday.
Even though Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle for its lush rolling hills, the color green is associated with St. Patrick’s Day for other reasons also.
It is actually because of the political division between British royalty and the people of Ireland. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Irish ditched the customary blue national color and adopted green as a symbol of Irish rebellion. On top of that, they also adopted the green shamrock as their symbol.
So now, as a nod to the people of Ireland, everyone wears green on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate the determination and spirit of the fighting Irish.
Read more about the colors of St. Patrick’s Day.
Black and Orange – Halloween
Halloween is an ancient Celtic festival that was held during the first week of November as the day when souls of the dead return to their home. Yes, this spooky holiday is actually rooted in mysticism, as friendly treats were left at the door and lit candles lined the side of roads to help the spirits of loved ones find their way back home.
Today, Halloween is a holiday for children to enjoy. Dressed up in costume, kids of all ages roam neighborhoods to receive tasty treats – or have a spooky trick played on them! Today, All Hallows’ Eve is celebrated the night before All Saints Day, meaning it will fall on October 31st each year.
So, why are orange and black the two colors most associated with Halloween, and what is the meaning of those colors?
Orange is a fall season color, the color of fire and energy. When we see the color orange, it is believed that it awakens our brain to bright, happy, and uplifting feelings. But, we have also put cultural associations upon the color orange. Like orange prison uniforms, it can bring up negative thoughts for some people.
But, the main reason why orange is associated with Halloween is that it is an autumnal color. Fall delivers orange and gold leaves on trees and a host of fall crops that are also orange, like pumpkins, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
When it comes to black as a secondary color for Halloween, the answer is simple. The color black is deeply rooted in mystery. While black is associated with power, authority, and strength, it is also the color most closely associated with death.
Therefore, it makes sense that black is used in Halloween decorations and costumes. The Western tradition of wearing black as mourning clothes dates back to the Roman Empire. Women in ancient times were required to wear a black hat and veil to show that their husband had passed away.
Read more about the colors of Halloween.
White and Pastel Colors – Easter
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Christian holiday is extremely significant in that it represents newness, hope, and salvation. For these reasons, it is fitting that Easter is an early spring holiday, a season where the earth is regenerating itself for a season of growth and abundance.
White is the color most associated with Easter. The color white is most often associated with purity and simplicity, which makes it the perfect color for this holy holiday. Other ways our brain associates the color white with our environment include the thought of cleanliness, innocence, and simplicity that is associated with a white decor.
The grace and sense of purity of white is why it is associated with the Easter holiday. But the entire palette of pastel colors is also common for this spring celebration. A pastel color can be any color that has been desaturated. In other words, mix any color with enough white, and you will eventually have its pastel equivalent.
Wearing pastel colors at Easter and throughout the spring season is simply a cultural act that is common in the United States. The light and soft pastel colors replace the deeply saturated and dark colors of winter. Spring is a greening time, where you notice a very light spring green color coats the trees and fields, only to be soon replaced with the deeper green hues of Mother Nature.
Read more about the colors of Easter.
Red and Green – Christmas
Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year. Not only is this spiritual leader thought to be the Son of God, he is also the founder of Christianity. The most prominent modern celebration of Christmas is the decorating of a tree, and this is where we get our first color associated with the season – green.
The color green is closely associated with nature, growth, and new life. While spiritual growth and new life are taught to be gifts of salvation, the color green is more likely associated with the way Christ was crucified – on a wooden cross. The connection to decorating trees and the color green are both tied to the wooden cross.
To really get into the Christmas spirit, homes will not only be decorated with a green tree from nature (or other symbolic tree), there is also the use of evergreen plants like mistletoe and holly. These evergreen plants bring the Christian religion full circle, representing the eternal life of Jesus Christ.
Red is another common Christmas color because it symbolizes the blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world from sin. The color red is closely connected to feelings of love, romance, and courage. But this powerful color is also full of energy. The color red is stimulating and vibrant. And that is the type of energy we get from Santa Claus when he visits children all over the world at Christmastime, decked out in his red and white outfit.
In actuality, the colors red and green are more than likely associated with Christmas, because they have always been the color of the winter solstice. The Celtic people used bright green holly plants with their deep red berries as a way to celebrate this seasonal holiday period, which occurs on December 21st. At any rate, the medium to deep red and green colors are always a beautiful complement to the snowy winter months.
Read more about the colors of Christmas.
Red, White, and Blue – Independence Day
Every year, on July 4th, Americans celebrate Independence Day with local parades, family cook-outs, and lots of fireworks. Independence Day is the day chosen to annually celebrate the country’s nationhood or independence from British colonial rule. This day was chosen because on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence to officially separate from rule under the monarchy of King George III.
So, first of all, the national colors and the colors of the American flag are red, white, and blue.
They come from the three colors that the Founding Fathers served under or were exposed to. Even so, the colors still hold a significant amount of meaning. While red symbolizes the valor and tough spirit of the early settlers, white is used in the flag to symbolize purity and innocence. And blue is a fitting color to recognize the perseverance it took to achieve justice for our fledgling nation.
Oddly enough, the colors red, white, and blue are the same colors of the British flag, which is a combination of the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew (white on blue) and the English Cross of St. George (red on white). The 13 red-on-white stripes represent the 13 original colonies, while the 50 white-on-blue stars of the American flag represent the 50 states of the Union.
Today, the wearing of anything with the color combination of red, white, and blue will immediately be recognized as a patriotic gesture. It is also appropriate to wear red, white, and blue not just on July 4th, but also on President’s Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Election Day.
Read more about the colors of patriotic celebrations.
Gold and Silver – New Year’s Eve
The colors of New Year’s celebrations are typically, but not officially, gold and silver. And, these colors are quite an appropriate choice for New Year’s Eve celebrations and New Year’s Day dinners. This holiday is also known for some of the best fireworks displays you will ever see, as everyone counts down to the new year.
But, what about the classically elegant colors of gold and silver? Well, both colors are the color of money, and what we all want in a new year is abundance.
The colors gold and silver bring to mind opulence, luxury, wealth, royalty, achievement, and good fortune. To create the color gold, the color brown is mixed with enough yellow until it turns a golden color. The color silver is not a true color mix, it is a simulation of the silver metal that is created by adding a metallic shine to gray.
When choosing either silver or gold as a gift, keep in mind that the color gold is typically a masculine color that symbolizes wealth and success, while silver is a feminine color that represents elegance, grace, and sensitivity. Of course, any jewelry made of precious metals and/or gemstones will be a welcome gift to either gender.
So, while there is no real connection between New Year’s celebrations and the colors gold and silver, it is a cultural tradition that has been attached by society, to get dressed up in your best formal wear and attend functions lavishly adorned with gold and silver embellishments to ring in the new year with style.
Read more about the colors of New Year’s Eve.
Blue and White – Hanukkah
For 8 days, the Jewish festival known as Hanukkah is celebrated from the 25th day of Kislev (in December). This holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after it was desecrated by the Syrians. The lighting of eight candles each day is the way the Jewish religion marks this holiday – to symbolize the number of days that the Temple lantern blazed.
The association between the colors blue and white and the religious days of Hanukkah are rooted in theology. These important colors also adorn the Jewish prayer shawl with its white fabric and blue string. Other celebrations connected to Hanukkah such as holiday meals and family gatherings are somewhat similar to Christmas celebrations, except the colors of the week are blue and white.
We’ve already made the connection between white and holiness, purity, simplicity, and innocence. But, what about the color blue? Blue symbolizes feelings of spirituality, peace, calm, and order. You will find Jewish homes decorating a Hanukkah bush (instead of a Christmas tree) with strings of blue and white lights to usher in the peaceful tranquility of the season.
Blue just happens to be one of the most popular colors in the world, yet the color blue rarely occurs in nature. But, when the color blue does make a display, it is phenomenal! Consider the blue skies and blue waterways. The same with our foods – very few crops are blue, except for blueberries and a few others with shades of blue like grapes, plums, and elderberries.
Read more about the colors of Hanukkah.
Black, Red, and Green – Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is an African-American secular festival observed from December 26 to January 1 as a celebration of their cultural heritage and traditional values. During these seven days, families will meet regularly to learn about their ancestors, to honor current family members, and celebrate both the black family and the black community.
It is also customary to make gifts for each other during Kwanzaa, instead of buying gifts. This ties the holiday back to the African tradition of handiwork as opposed to consumerism. The main point is to celebrate a collective spirituality and the collective heritage of the African and African American cultures.
The colors black, red, and green are a very African-oriented color palette. The meaning behind each color is:
“Black is for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle.”
It is customary for Black Americans to wear brightly colored and patterned African apparel with the dominant colors of black, red, and green during the Kwanzaa season.
Read more about the colors of Kwanzaa.
Colors Are Important During the Holidays
The colors associated with all these holidays and holiday seasons have become a part of different cultures and traditions. But, more importantly, is the way these colors either commemorate the season or describe the holidays without words, but with so much meaning.