There are certain color schemes that go with particular holidays. Easter is all pastels. The fourth of July is the good ol' red, white, and blue. When it comes time for Halloween, everyone loves a good orange combined with black, and maybe some purple and green thrown in for good measure. For Thanksgiving, it's all fall colors: reds and oranges, and dark yellows and browns. But, why are Christmas colors red and green?
Why are the colors of Christmas red and green? It's a combination of pagan traditions and advertising.
Seriously. The green and red in Christmas can be most directly attributed to the holly plant, which has a place in the Winter Solstice celebrations that date back to Roman times and possibly even further back, according to Arielle Eckstut, who co-authored Secret Language of Color. Arielle believes that the prominence of these X-mas color schemes are also influenced by branding.
I know what you're thinking: "I knew Christmas was a consumerist holiday meant to further glorify the broken system of capitalism under the guise of love for fellow members of your species!" But, before we delve into that wonderful dinner table conversation you'll have between punctuated glances at the notifications on your $1,000 smartphone, let's delve into why red and green are "Christmas colors."
Coca-Cola, believe it or not, had a lot to do with the establishment of these colors, particularly red. The red can brand started an ad campaign that depicted Santa Claus as a more rotund and heftier individual, which meant that he was able to rock a lot more red that would pop in the ads. Believe it or not, artistic depictions of Santa back in the day made him appear more "thin and elf-life," according to Arielle in an NPR interview.
It can all be dated back to 1931: "Coca-Cola hired an artist to create a Santa Claus. They had done this before, but this particular artist created a Santa Claus that we associate with the Santa Claus today in many ways: He was fat and jolly — whereas before he was often thin and elf-like — and he had red robes. ... And so the fact that all these things came together — this friendly, fat Santa in these bright red robes, which, I don't think is a coincidence, match the color of the Coke logo — this really took hold in American culture," Arielle said.
Haddon Sundblom was the name of the artist, and his work was such a hit that Coca-Cola continued to work with him for decades. So, the birth of Christmas colors, as we know it, can directly be attributed to Sundblom's work.
Prior to red and green being Christmas colors, the palettes were a bit more varied.
If you look at Victorian Christmas cards, lots of red and blue, blue and green, and blue and white were used. Santa would often wear a bunch of different colored robes, blue and green included. But after 1931, he was pretty much the jolly red man.
On the topic of Victorian Christmas cards ... some of them were just tremendously creepy.
So, you can thank pagan decorators with an affinity for the holly plant and advertisers shilling sugar water for the official colors of Christmas. (Personally, I don't really care how the colors came about, I'm still going to watch A Christmas Story and Elf all day long.)