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Why are red and green considered Christmas colors?

Why are red and green considered Christmas colors?

The colors red and green have become iconic holiday colors associated with Christmas in many parts of the world. But why exactly are these two particular colors so deeply ingrained as Christmas colors? The associations extend back hundreds of years and are rooted in ancient winter solstice celebrations, religious symbolism, and even modern marketing. Understanding the history and meaning behind red and green as Christmas colors provides insight into holiday traditions.

Ancient Roots

The tradition of using red and green as symbolic colors during midwinter celebrations predates Christmas by thousands of years. In pre-Christian Europe, green plants and greenery were an integral part of winter solstice celebrations. Evergreens, holly, and ivy served as symbolic reminders that plants would grow again and spring would return. The Green Man, a pagan symbol of fertility, was also associated with these winter solstice traditions. Red apples and other red fruits were also offered during winter feasts.

When Christmas was established as a Christian holiday in the 4th century, these ancient associations with red and green remained. Early Christmas celebrations in Europe incorporated holly, evergreens, candles, fruits, and nuts—all key symbols from winter solstice observances. Using red and green was a way to give the new holiday familiar midwinter symbolism that would resonate with existing culture and traditions.

Christian Symbolism

Beyond the colors’ pre-Christian winter associations, red and green also gained religious and spiritual symbolism within Christianity. Green came to represent eternal life and rebirth through its association with evergreens staying green through the winter. Red symbolized the blood of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. Using red and green together at Christmas became a way to represent the birth, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus in one visual shorthand.

Red and green symbolism features prominently in the story of Saint Nicholas. Originally a Greek Christian bishop in the 4th century, his red bishop’s robes and green vestments helped establish an iconic appearance still associated with Christmas gift-giver Santa Claus today. Saint Nicholas’s red and green clothing reinforced his connection to the Christian holiday.

Modern Commercialization

While red and green originated as symbolic seasonal colors rooted in ancient pagan and early Christian history, their ubiquity as Christmas colors today has been strongly driven by modern commercialism and advertising.

In the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, mass production of Christmas decorations and giftwrap embraced red and green for the season. Retailers promoted the colors heavily to aid holiday sales. By the early 20th century red and green were common holiday colors for store displays, print ads, decorations, wrapping paper, clothes, and Christmas cards.

Coca-Cola’s 1930s holiday advertising campaigns helped further popularize red and green as Christmas colors. Coke ads, illustrations, and promotional material frequently featured Santa Claus in red robes trimmed with white fur against a green background. This eye-catching color scheme helped secure red and green as the go-to Christmas palette.

Year Historical Event or Trend
Pre-Christian Europe Evergreens, holly, and other green plants used in winter solstice celebrations
4th century christmas established as Christian holiday incorporating pagan solstice symbols
Middle Ages St. Nicholas depicted wearing red vestments and green robes
19th century Mass production of red and green Christmas decorations and giftwrap
Early 20th century Red and green dominate Christmas advertising and retail displays
1930s Coca-Cola campaigns reinforce red and green as Christmas colors

Psychological Associations

Beyond their history and religious symbolism, red and green may be appealing Christmas colors due to basic psychological associations people have with those hues. Red is known to stimulate strong emotions and grab attention, perfect for a high-energy joyful holiday. Green can represent nature, freshness, and renewal – positive associations for a winter celebration focused on new beginnings. Bright reds and greens feel playful and childlike, speaking to Christmas’s sense of nostalgia and wonder. Their complementary positions on the color wheel also allow them to stand out distinctly when paired together.

Regional Variations

While red and green are considered classic Christmas colors throughout much of the Western world, some regions have their own unique color palettes associated with holiday celebrations.

In Scandinavian countries, blue and white tend to dominate Christmas decorating schemes. Blue represents the colors of Norway’s flag while white symbolizes snow and winter.

In Ukraine, spider webs and artificial spiders are common Christmas tree decorations. According to folklore, a spider web found on Christmas morning brings good luck. The white spider webs paired with silver and gold ornaments make for a more monochromatic holiday palette.

In Japan, KFC fried chicken has become a hugely popular Christmas tradition since the 1970s as an alternative to turkey or ham. As a result, KFC’s red and white branding helps shape the holiday aesthetic.


Red and green have cemented themselves as the classic Christmas colors throughout the Western world due to their deep historical origins and symbolic associations with midwinter celebrations. Their bright complementary colors pair beautifully to represent holiday joy and rebirth. Modern marketers have certainly amplified red and green’s ubiquity and visibility during the Christmas season. But the underlying reasons these two particular colors came to represent the holiday extend back centuries and give insight into the long evolution of Christmas traditions. Their symbolic connections to nature, religion, children, food, and gifts help make red and green feel like the most festive colors for decorating, dressing up, and getting in the Christmas spirit.