Every celebration has a unique purpose and significance; like a birth, a death, a victory or the attainment of freedom. These unique purposes are often represented by certain colours. For instance, in the medieval days, a purple robe signified royalty; a white wedding gown symbolized purity and virginity.
Over the years colours have been used for various purposes, ranging from solely aesthetic purposes to functions like communication of emotions and ideas. Colours have also been used to depict ideas and crystallize people’s experiences. However, one function of colour that stands out is its festive function.
Every festival in the world has colours attached to it and Christmas is no exception. Knowledge of the significance of Christmas enhances the understanding of Christmas itself.
The essence of using specific colours during the celebration of Christmas is to remind Christians about events during the life of Christ. Certain colours evoke memories of Christ’s tribulations as well as God’s promise of life everlasting, if people will follow His word.
The colours of Christmas include green, red, gold and white (silver) among others. Amongst these colours, red and green seem to have assumed more significance than the rest. There are a couple of different explanations for the adoption of red and green as the Christmas colours. However, the explanation that stands out is the story of the paradise tree.
The paradise tree story dates back to the 1300s. At this time, Adam and Eve’s Day was celebrated on December 24th each year. Due to the illiteracy of majority of people at the time, local churches often had to present plays, which they used as a tool to teach the laypeople. These plays touched on issues of religious importance, and for this reason they were tagged “miracle plays”.
Presented on 24th December, the Paradise Play recounted the story of Adam and Eve, and their predicament in the Garden of Eden. Props were a necessity, but there was no way to make an apple tree available in the middle of winter. And so the decision was made to tie apples to the branches of a pine tree and have it serve as the Tree of Good and Evil.
The plan was very successful and soon became accepted in local churches. Eventually, this version of the Tree of Good and Evil spread, and became the generally accepted prop whenever the play was staged. Soon, churches everywhere had taken on this practice and included it in their annual celebration.
German citizens in particular began to erect pine trees in their private homes during the holiday, decorating them with red apples, just like in the Miracle Play. Soon thereafter, the practice became so pervasive, that the modern-day Christmas tree tradition was born, and the official colours of the Christmas season became green and red – green for the pine tree and red for the apples. Today however, more colours have been added to the array and have also taken on new meanings.
Green symbolizes nature, fertility, hope and bountifulness. It also speaks of the continuous cycle of life. More importantly, it represents God’s eternal love for mankind. Evergreen trees and wreaths are familiar green symbols used during the holiday season.
Red represents the blood that was shed by Jesus for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins. Besides being a warm colour, red lifts the mood and is associated with virtually all celebrations, irrespective of race and religion. It also plays a vital role within the context of Christmas.
White (silver) represents light and purity. Churches often use white as the liturgical colour of Christmas. White also symbolizes purity, virginity, innocence, virtue and holiness.
Gold represents the light that is shown to mankind by God, helping them to find their way in the darkness. Candles, trees lights and the stars of Bethlehem on the Christmas tree tops are symbols of this light. It also symbolizes renewal, hope, wealth, prosperity and wisdom, these attributes are often associated with the life of Christ.
The colours of Christmas are not just a random blend of blissful colours; they represent the very essence of the celebration which is the birth and life of Christ.