Sep 26, 2019 | By Jane Boddy
With the festive season fast approaching we are seeing our neighborhoods, homes and shopping windows flourish with the yearly themes of red, green and glittery gold. But where did these colors originate from and why is red – the most powerful color of all – attached to yet another holiday?
Holly, with its evergreen leaves and scarlet red berries, seems to be the most obvious inspiration and has long been associated as the plant of Christmas. Dating back thousands of years, sprigs of holly, mistletoe and ivy were used to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long winter months. They reminded people that spring would come, and that the cold and dark winter wouldn’t last forever. Even the Romans would exchange evergreen branches during winter solace celebrations as a symbol of good luck.
There is a lot of speculation around whether the Victorians cemented the colors as holiday hues with their opulent, decorative Christmas cards. Palettes of red, greens and blue were mainly used and Santa was depicted in a slender, elfish manner sporting either blue, green or red robes.
This all changed in 1931 when Coca-Cola hired artist, Haddon Sundblom to create a Santa Claus. This had been done many times before but Sundblom created the Santa Claus that we know and love today. He was rosy-cheeked and jolly, sporting ruby red robes – no coincidence that they perfectly match the color of the Coca-Cola logo. Coca-Cola went on to work with Haddon Sundblom for many more campaigns after the success of the Christmas ad.
In the present day, our world is saturated with every color imaginable and certain hues aren’t necessarily reserved for the wealthy or solely for certain occasions. This has dulled the human sensation to seeing color and the response to certain hues be devalued. If we look back to the before the Middle Ages, color was used as an understanding of life and cultural awareness. Where blue paints were reserved solely for depiction of the Virgin Mary’s robes and green objects were used to rest the tired eyes of scribes.
Colour still has the ability to shock us and fill us with unease, even now. In the recent unveiling of the White House Christmas trees there was an internet uproar at how the classic evergreen pine trees were painted ‘blood red.’ A green tree, usually connecting us to nature and grounding us, it is jolting to see it unrecognizable and painted red. A typically unnatural color which has links to that of violence and rage. This is especially jarring to see in the current climate which can feel divided and particularly ferocious at times, highlighting the psychological attachments that we still have to color and its deep cultural history.
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