By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 December 2015)
The practice of bringing greenery into the home for decoration dates back to various ancient pagan midwinter celebrations. It’s likely that people wanted to bring green plants indoors to remind them that the dark, cold winter would end and that spring was just around the corner.
As for red associations, Welsh mythology links the colour red to trees. A series of Welsh stories, recorded in the 1200s (but probably dating to Pre-Christian oral traditions) feature a hero who arrives at a tree that is half green and half red, signifying a critical boundary. Red and green are associated with Christmas plants as well, as they are the colours of winter holly berries and leaves.
There are also Christian religious associations with the green and red Christmas colours, as the bishop’s robes worn by the original St. Nicholas (who was the inspiration for Santa Claus) would have been red, and an alternating green-and-red colour scheme was often used in Medieval churches featuring images of saints. Also, during the middle ages in Europe, Bible plays were regularly performed on Christmas Eve, and these typically featured a pine tree decorated with red apples.
Gold, another colour that predominates in Christmas celebrations, represents the sun and the fire in the hearth, and therefore the warmth and light that people would have craved during the dark winter months. It was also one of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus by the three wise men, and the color of the star they followed to find him.
For more on the history of Christmas and its traditions, gift ideas, and Christmas crafts, see the main Christmas page.