Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why are Red and Green Christmas Colors? Part 1

In recent years, the choice of colors for Christmas decorating
have grown increasingly varied.
This year I've seen a lot of deep purple, lavender, teal, and chartreuse.
Also fuschia pink, deep royal blue, and black.
Of course there is always a lot of silver and gold metallic.
One year I was able to buy bronze and copper glass ornaments;
another year I decorated my tree with soft rose-pink
and an unusual green that the label called "Victorian green."
It had strong hints of black and verdigris.
But the colors that endure are the traditional red and emerald green.
And why are red and green the traditional colors for Christmas?
There are lots of ideas, but not many facts.
Here are some of the proposals I came across on the web:
Evergreen trees and leaves would seem to explain the green.
The word green derives from an archaic verb
that meant "to green" or "to grow,"
so it is a color that, more than most, symbolizes nature.
And bright red holly berries might explain the red.
photo courtesy of
Or perhaps a bright red cardinal on an evergreen bough
could have captured someone's attention.
Some people speculate that the color symbolism came from red apples
being used to decorate small evergreen trees in the 17th-century.
Another theory explains red and green in terms of the chakras.
Green is the color of the heart chakra, for expressions of love,
and red is the color of the root chakra,
expressing our sense of family and belonging.
That might well explain the choice of red and green for Christmas.
But then we could look at the role of red and green on the color wheel:
they are opposite one another and therefore complementary colors,
but then, if that's all it takes,
 why not blue and orange or purple and yellow?
Some point to the color symbolism in priests' vestments:
green to symbolize hope and growth,
red to symbolize love, passion, the blood of martyrs, and the apostles.
All good theories, but join me tomorrow for Part 2,
when we will look at some historical evidence
that explains the use of red and green for Christmas.

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