Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by mia. mia Wonders, “Why are the Christmas colours red and green?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, mia!
Merry Christmas from all of us at Wonderopolis! What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? For some, it's brightly-wrapped presents sitting under the Christmas tree. Others think of special time spent with friends and family members celebrating the birth of Jesus. Others might envision Santa sliding down the chimney, where stockings are hung with care.
If you were to put your mental images of Christmas onto paper in the form of a drawing, chances are there are two crayons you'd use more than any others: red and green. For hundreds of years, red and green have been the traditional colors of Christmas. But why is that?
Although Christmas trees are green and Santa's suit and Rudolph's nose are red, these modern holiday decorations and characters weren't the inspiration for the colors we associate with Christmas. To find their root, we have to go much farther back in time.
Although no one knows for certain how and why red and green became so closely associated with Christmas, there are a few popular theories. Many Christians believe red and green were inspired by the life of Jesus, whose birth Christians celebrate on Christmas. Green, for example, represents the eternal life of Jesus Christ, just as evergreen trees remain green the whole winter long. Likewise, red represents the blood shed by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion.
Some scholars date the tradition of red and green at Christmas back to the 1300s, when churches would present Miracle Plays, religious plays that were meant to educate a largely-illiterate public who could not read the Bible.
One popular Miracle Play performed on Christmas Eve was called The Paradise Play. It told the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Those familiar with the story know that God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil. They did so anyway and were banished from paradise.
Since apple trees were barren in winter, churches would instead bring in pine trees and fasten apples to their branches to represent the Tree of Good and Evil. Over time, people began to duplicate this practice in their own homes, developing the tradition of the Christmas tree and using red and green as Christmas colors.
Many historians believe the practice of using red and green goes even farther back in history. They point to the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which honored the god Saturn and occurred each year between December 17 and December 23. During the celebration, Romans would decorate their homes with holly and place small figurines called sigillaria on the boughs of evergreen trees. Over time, the evergreen leaves and red berries came to symbolize the festive and merry season.