Thanksgiving Colors: Uncovering Their Meaning and Symbolism

Happy Thanksgiving celebration with colorful dinner setting

Thanksgiving is quite literally a cornucopia of colors. The rich, rusty colors of fall bring to mind feelings of change, renewal and preparation. Curiously, it is as though fall colors come up from the soil to reach our plates when we sit down to dine and give thanks on the last Thursday of November.

The robust colors of the Thanksgiving table include a golden turkey set beside sun-colored corn, ruby-hued cranberry sauce and cinnamon-dusted pumpkin pie. Have you ever stopped to wonder what the colors of Thanksgiving represent?

Take a look at what the colors of Thanksgiving symbolize to discover why the horn of plenty offers a rich palette for the senses. Understanding the symbolism of Thanksgiving colors offers a wonderful way to create a truly rich, textured Thanksgiving centerpiece that tells the visual story of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth in 1621.


Vegan fresh cooking ingredients on a wooden table. Red beetroot and dried cranberries

Burnt reds are closely associated with Thanksgiving. We owe this to the fallen leaves of sugar maples that pepper sidewalks and driveways in November’s last days. When we see splotches of red against the fall sky, it brings up feelings of passion, excitement and alarm. Red is especially important for the Thanksgiving table because it is known to awaken the appetite.

That may be why no turkey-day spread is considered complete without cranberry sauce. Cranberries play a very specials role in Thanksgiving due to the fact that the cranberry harvest takes place once a year during the period lasting from September to November. The fall has been an active time in the cranberry bogs of New England ever since the very first settlers began working the land.

Yellow and Gold

A whole yellow sweet potato pie on an artistic set with autumn leaves, squash and gourds on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate abundance. This is why golden hues hold such a special place on the Thanksgiving table. While leaves turn golden outside, harvesters count their bounty in anticipation of the colder months that will withhold nature’s riches. Golden ears of corn, delicious squash and the famed sweet-potato pie all hold prized spots in the Thanksgiving spread.

Corn plays an especially important role in Thanksgiving due to the fact that the Pilgrims were taught harvesting techniques by Native Americans. In fact, the very first Thanksgiving shared at Plymouth among Pilgrims and Native Americans was in celebration of the Pilgrim’s first successful corn harvest. Many Native American tribes consider different varieties of corn to be sacred.

In general, yellow also serves a very important purpose for keeping the holiday festivities bright and cheerful. The color yellow is strongly associated with feelings of happiness.


Traditional american fresh round bright orange homemade pumpkin pie in baking dish on wooden table

In the context of Thanksgiving, the color orange symbolizes that year’s harvest. Pumpkin was also a staple for the Pilgrims who hosted the first Thanksgiving. It was common to eat boiled pumpkins heated on stewing pots over fire that were flavored with maple sugar and spices carried over on English ships.

Of course, our version of boiled pumpkin today is something far tastier. Pumpkin pie is the official dessert of Thanksgiving. We can blame the giddy feelings induced by watching a knife slide into a hot, perfectly smooth pumpkin pie on the fact that the color orange brings to mind feelings of warmth and joy.


Concept of autumn harvest with pumpkins, apples, berries and leaves on dark brown wooden background

Brown signifies the beginning of the death-and-rebirth cycle that awakens in fall. As the leaves begin to turn brown and wither, all of nature begins to prepare for the cold winter ahead.

Brown also symbolizes a connection to the soil that bonds harvester with harvest. It is a reminder of the reliance we have on the earth for nourishment and security.


Growing white pumpkins on the ground at a farm

Nothing is as striking in a Thanksgiving centerpiece as a collection of white gourds. Ivory-skin colored pumpkins and gourds are known as albino pumpkins, ghost pumpkins and cotton-candy pumpkins. They serve the important purpose of reminding us of the stark, colorless winter season to come. They also put on display the strangeness of nature by contrasting the deep, earthy hues that crowd the Thanksgiving table.

White symbolizes innocence, goodness and light. It is also associated with purity and cleanliness. This is a fitting color to tie into the celebration of a Puritan holiday. White’s association with peace also calls to mind the camaraderie shared between the Puritan settlers and Native Americans on the day of the very first Thanksgiving.

Creating Your Thanksgiving Cornucopia

It is amazing to think that you can bring to life the story of the very first celebration of Thanksgiving all the way back in 1621 in a very new, exciting and tangible way, using the colors of this holiday.

The colors of Thanksgiving are the colors of nature, gratitude and anticipation. They bring us to a place of looking back in thankfulness, while baiting our breath to see just how cruel or kind the winter that stands before us will be. You might say that the warm, earthy colors of fall invite us to load up on all of the warmth we can gather in our souls and bellies during the season’s last harvest.

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