The Origin of Christmas Colors

How Green and Red Became Symbols of Christmas

by Nicole Skutelnik
Surprisingly, conventional Christmas colors weren’t inspired by holiday characters or festive decorations. Red didn’t come from candy canes or Rudolf’s nose or Santa Claus’s suit. And green wasn’t inspired by Santa’s elves, holiday wreaths or sprigs of holly. In fact, the convention began very long ago:

The Origin of Christmas Colors

There are two accepted beliefs about the origin of traditional Christmas colors, one based on Christian faith, and the other based on historical fact.

Christian Belief

The color green is a natural representation of eternal life, specifically the evergreen tree and how it survives through the winter season. That’s why, in Christian belief, green represents the eternal life of Jesus Christ. The color red symbolizes Christ’s blood which was shed during his crucifixion.

Historical Fact
Back in the 14th Century, churches presented Miracle Plays—religious plays used to educate the illiterate public. Traditionally on December 24, the church presented The Paradise Play, the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. And in place of an apple tree—as they weren’t available in winter—they fastened apples to the branches of a pine tree. Using a pine to represent the Tree of Good and Evil became a common practice among churches and they began incorporating the tree into their Christmas displays each year. But it didn’t stop there. Following the church’s example, people began assembling pine trees in their homes and decorating them with red apples. This act introduced two modern traditions: the Christmas tree and our seasonal colors, green for the pine tree and red for the apples.

Cultural Symbolism of Green and Red

While green and red may be the widely accepted colors denoting the Christmas season, the individual colors have had different meanings from one culture to the next.


Depending on where you are in the world, red can represent anything from anger and sin to fortune and fertility. In some countries, like China and India, red is worn at weddings. In central Africa, red symbolizes health and life, whereas in South Africa it’s the color of death and mourning. Red can represent power and status, a good example being the red carpet. Roses and hearts associate red with love and passion, whereas traffic signs and stop signs associate it with danger and warning. And red is also a patriotic color for many countries, such as Britain and the USA, symbolizing blood, sacrifice and courage.


Nowadays green dominates as the color of environmentalism, but like the color red, it also has many other conflicting connotations. It can represent nature and growth, as well as mould and decomposition. In the Middle Ages, green represented love and fertility, and brides often wore green on their wedding day. But at the same time, it was also the color of poison, devilry and evil. In some countries, green is considered the luckiest color, representing fortune, wealth and prosperity. But in Ireland, where green is the national color, it’s actually considered unlucky. The Irish wear the color in hopes that things will take a turn for the better. In most parts of the world, green represents life, growth and balance; however, in some countries, like South America, green is a symbol of death.

Together, green and red inspire warm thoughts of the Christmas season. But separately, they represent an entire world of different meanings.
Read more at Suite101: The Origin of Christmas Colors: How Green and Red Became Symbols of Christmas

At Ion Exchange we start celebrating Christmas colors in August and September by enjoying the Royal Catchfly and Cardinal Flowers.

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