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  • Writer's pictureJan Peterson

Traditionalist or trend setter?

Are you a traditionalist when it comes to holiday decorating, or do you like to separate yourself from the crowd? We are programmed to associate red and green with Christmas and blue and white with Hanukkah, but you might be surprised as to how and why these colors came to be.

When it comes to both Hanukkah and Christmas, traditional colors are steeped in religious convention, but have evolved from popular culture. Here's a little history lesson:

Hanukkah Blue and White

In Color Meanings by Jacob Olesen, the blues and whites representing Hanukkah were inspired from the prayer shawls (tallits) used in Judaism. This use of blue comes from a Bible story in which the Israelites are told to dye a single thread in the tassels of their tallit with a particular blue dye made from sea snails. They were told to do this so that they could look at the thread and remember “all the commandments of the Lord.” At the time during which the story takes place, this dye would have been not only very popular but also a status symbol. The coloring was often seen on the clothing or personal items of the wealthy upper class, so using it on a thread in a tallit would have demonstrated how important the shawls were.

Over time, the particular dye that the Israelites originally used became much rarer, and the practice of using it to dye the threads of the tassels on the tallit stopped. Some time later, Jewish people began using a stripe of blue in their prayer shawls to remember this tradition.

The blue carried over not only to the prayer shawls (and later, the Jewish flag), but also to many different Hanukkah decorations.

Christmas Red and Green

According to Arielle Eckstut, author of The Secret Language of Color, we can thank Coca- Cola for the red and green we associate with Christmas.

Holly boughs, with their green leaves and red berries, long played a role in winter solstice celebrations that predate Christmas. But despite those deep roots, it took centuries for the link between Christmas and those colors to become as solid as it is today in American culture. One reason for that shift - advertising.

In 1885 a red colorized version of Father Christmas on the telephone appeared in Harper's Weekly Magazine. Later, in the 1930's, when Coca-Cola was becoming a popular American drink, the print campaign used images of what was clearly just a regular man in a Santa costume drinking Coke. Rather than an image of the “real” Santa, executives at D’Arcy Advertising Agency wanted something more wholesome and genuine. The company commissioned artist Haddon Sundblom to paint a Santa based on imagery in the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas” — by Clement Clarke Moore.

The staying power of the Coke-Cola ad continued, and Sundblom painted annual Santa Claus ads for the brand until 1964. That image on the Coke ads became in people’s minds what Santa looked like. The red colors of Santa’s clothing alongside the green of a Christmas tree launched the colors of what we associate with Christmas today.

If you're a traditionalst, you're likely to decorate with the colors associated with these holidays. If you're willing to step out of your comfort zone, here are some inspirational color palettes to spark your creative brain:

Purple and Lavender

Tiffany Blue, Silver, and White

Chartreuse, White and Gold

“All colors arouse specific associative ideas…”

- Yves Klein

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