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Why purple is the color of lent?

Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter in the Christian calendar. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Christians prepare for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The History and Meaning of the Lenten Colors

Throughout the season of Lent, purple is the primary liturgical color used in churches. But why is purple associated with Lent? The colors used for the various seasons and holidays in the church calendar hold symbolic meaning. Purple is the traditional color of penance and sacrifice. As Lent is a preparatory time of introspection, self-denial, and repentance, the somber purple hue is a visual reminder of the tone of the season.

Purple is also the color associated with royalty. As Lent leads up to Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the color helps represent Christ’s journey from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his crucifixion on Good Friday. Purple in Lent therefore symbolizes the honor and praise due to Christ the King as well as his sacrifice.

The Use of Purple in Lenten Customs

The purple color of penance shows up in a variety of Lenten observances. Violet vestments and altar cloths are used in Lenten services. Purple candles are lit. People may wear purple ribbons pinned to clothing or purple bracelets. Some churches change out paintings and banners for purple-toned decor during the Lenten season. ManyReplace Roman Catholic priests also drape purple or violet fabric over crucifixes and religious statues from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.

In some cultural traditions, purple plays a role in Lenten fasting. In parts of Latin America, Spain, and France, it is customary to eat purple plums or figs to break the Lenten fast on Holy Thursday. In Italy, sugared almonds in shades of violet and purple are popular Easter treats after the strict fast. This connects the sweetness of the candy to the joy of the resurrection.

The Color Psychology of Purple

The psychological effects associated with the color purple also connect it symbolically to the Lenten themes of penance and sacrifice. The color is long associated with wealth, power, and royalty. But purple is also linked to wisdom, spirituality, inspiration, and mystery. The color evokes compassion, intuition, and dignity. Deep purple is meditative while pale purple is romantic, nostalgic, and fanciful. This range of color meanings corresponds to the spiritual work and self-reflection encouraged during the Lenten season.

Purple in the Liturgical Calendar

In the Christian tradition, purple is the color not just of Lent but also of Advent. Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory time of prayer, fasting, and penance as believers spiritually prepare for a major celebration – the nativity or birth of Christ at Christmas. Both Advent and Lent are periods of conversion prayed in purple vestments.

Other symbolic colors on the liturgical calendar include white or gold for Christmas and Easter, green for Ordinary Time, and red for feasts of martyred saints like Pentecost. Purple stands out as the color of preparation and spiritual discipline.

Liturgical Season Symbolic Color
Advent Purple
Christmas White or Gold
Lent Purple
Easter White or Gold
Ordinary Time Green
Feasts of Martyrs Red

Purple in Religious Symbolism and Iconography

Beyond the season of Lent, purple holds religious, spiritual, and mystical significance in Christianity more broadly. In beautiful works of art across the centuries, purple robes and fabric have been used to represent Christ’s divine nature and royalty.

The purple garment placed on Christ during his Passion symbolized his claim to kingship and the suffering he endured on humanity’s behalf. Saints and biblical figures like the Virgin Mary are also often depicted wearing purple as a sign of spiritual authority and contemplation.

Purple light from stained glass windows bathes sanctuary spaces in a mystical ambiance. During times of transition like Advent, Lent, weddings, or ordinations, purple candles burn with symbolic meaning about preparation, penance, and sacrifice.

As purple dye was historically expensive to produce, purple garments in art could also represent Christ and the Church’s protection of the poor and lowly. The color purple thus accumulates many nuanced meanings in Christianity beyond simply being the color of Lent.

Purple’s Pervasiveness in Easter Traditions

While purple diminishes after Lent ends on Holy Saturday, it often makes an appearance in Easter traditions as well. Purple ribbons or bows may adorn Easter baskets. Floral centerpieces may mix purple flowers like hyacinth or orchids with other colors. Pastel purple eggs are popular for dyeing alongside other spring-inspired hues.

On Easter Sunday in some church services, the purple banners and vestments used in Lent will suddenly shift to white and gold. This dramatic visual change powerfully marks the transition from the penitential Lenten season to the joy and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection.

The purposeful contrast shows that the forty days of spiritual practices in purple Lenten garb has led to the jubilation of Easter morning. The purple of Lent shows its significance during this season by its very absence on Easter Sunday.

Secular Marketing Adoptions of Purple

As with other major Christian holidays, the color associations of Lent have been adopted into secular marketing and commercial promotions. Ads for Easter and springtime sales may incorporate purple flowers, bunnies, eggs, or other purple-hued images. Companies develop products in purple Lenten or Easter themes to attract interest.

However, purple holds significance beyond these branding tactics. For devout Christians observing a somber Lent, the traditional penitential purple color retains a spiritual potency that commercialism cannot replace. For believers, purple during Lent will continue to represent the profound power of repentance, sacrifice, and hopeful anticipation of Easter.

Lent in Literature and Music

Beyond visual art, purple has been associated with Lent in literature and music across the centuries. Poems, hymns, and other writings depict purple robes, flowers, dawn light, and other purple images to evoke the Lenten mood.

In George Herbert’s poem “Lent,” he describes Lenten ashes and Violet fasts. T.S. Eliot’s famous “Ash Wednesday” poem uses purple to symbolize mourning and penitence during the season.

Popular Lenten hymns like “Forty Days and Forty Nights” include imagery like “purple reaches far.” Lines from “Abide with Me” state “Fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.” The purple darkness of early evening evokes Lenten contemplation.

Many classical composers like Mozart, Handel, and Bach wrote sacred music set to texts full of purple Lenten symbolism. Their powerful works intensify the connection between the purple color and the Lenten path walking with Christ.


Purple is famously the color of Lent across many denominations because it represents penance, sacrifice, and the suffering of Christ. The somber hue reminds observers of the solemnity of the Lenten season in preparation for Easter joy. Purple makes frequent symbolic appearances in traditions, customs, art, music, literature and icons during this important time on the Christian calendar. Both visually and psychologically, purple will continue to be connected to Lent for its power to evoke the meanings of the Lenten journey.