The first colors you think of when someone mentions Christmas, are red and green. If you think long enough you may come to gold and silver, maybe even blue. Where did these color come from though? Frankincense, gold, and myrrh are all yellowish or gold. We aren't told what color clothing Jesus is wrapped in, but purple is the color associated with royalty and Jesus is King of Kings. The star would have appeared silver or gold-ish. Bethlehem isn't a forest or jungle where we would imagine a lot of greenery... I can't even fathom where the red would come from.
Theories on the Origin of Red and Green
One scholar traces the red and green combination past Catholic paintings of saints to a Celtic legend in which a tree was said to be half green and half red.
Another source assumes green became associated with the holiday through the pagan Saturnalia's tradition of exchanging greenery (like holly or ivy) and the red originates from Jesus' sacrifice later in life.
Yet, another theory is that the red and green come from a play, showcased on Christmas eve, about the fall of man. In this play, Adam and Eve's forbidden fruit is a red apple tied to a pine tree (we won't get into the fact that the Bible does not say they ate an apple).
There’s also the legend of the Oak and Holly Kings which is possibly how holly, which is red and green, became associated with the holiday (see
Colors in the Bible
This made me wonder what the Bible says about these colors. When God tells the Israelites how to build the tabernacle, we get a glimpse of the colors He prefers. What were those colors? Scarlet, gold, blue, and purple.
Green is generally mentioned Biblically in reference to food, though interestingly both green and red are mentioned in connection to identifying a "plague of leprosy" in a house (likely in reference to mold). Green is also the color mentioned in reference to binding Samson; the fresh, undried (and green) rope renders him weak.
Colors do have seem to have meaning and symbolism within the Bible, but there are no verses that say green means this and red means that. The color combination that should send off alarm bells is scarlet and purple (the colors worn by the Whore of Babylon in Revelation).
Red and green aren’t necessarily a “bad” color combo from a Biblical stance. It is very possible that these colors are indicators of the pagan origins of the holiday, but regardless, associating color with the holiday is not Biblical and is purely a man made tradition.
Other Posts in this Series
- "Who Colour-Coded Christmas?". University of Cambridge. October 2011
- "The Importance of Christmas Colors". Color Combos. 2015
- Cooper, James. "The Colors of Christmas". Why Christmas. 2015
- Judges 16
- “Holly King and Oak King”. Wikipedia; visited October 2022