As Christmas approaches, everyone is excited about this merry holiday. We can see streets, shops, homes, cafes and restaurants decorated in pretty colors like red and green. Red and green are classic Christmas colors. When we see decorations this season, we are reminded of the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ But do you know these colors weren’t always associated with Christmas? Yes, and there is a story; rather a marketing strategy, behind how these colors related to this holiday.
How was Christmas celebrated before the 1930s in Europe and America?
Christmas was not a big holiday during the beginning of the Victorian era as we see it today. Some people had a holiday only on 25th December, and some didn’t even have any holiday. By the end of the 19th century, Christmas became a big festival thanks to the British Empire. The queen and her empire wanted Christmas to be a family holiday for people. Soon Christmas cards were being sent out that were decorated in various colors, sweets started being distributed, Christmas crackers were used, and Christmas trees were being garnished. The importance of Christmas and its celebration started growing, and soon, Christmas became a family holiday. It became a holiday to be with one’s loved ones and enjoy warmth during winter.
What led to red and green become the official colors of the Christmas festival?
World-famous brand Coca-Cola is the reason behind red and green colors getting associated with Christmas. According to author Arielle Eckstut, the holiday’s association with these colors results from branding. During the Victorian era, colors like blue, white, red, green, and yellow were also part of Christmas decorations. You could’ve found them in Christmas cards, decorations, etc. Plus, Santa Claus, known as the father of Christmas, was also not pictured the way we see it today. But because red is Coca-Cola’s official brand color, Coca-Cola started associating Christmas with red. The main reason was to create brand memory and associate Coca-Cola with happiness and celebration of family time.
Apart from Coca-Cola, some credit for this color association also goes to Holly. Arielle Eckstut points out that Holly has played a significant role in this association between red and green in her book 'Secret Language of Colour.' Initially, it was celebrated with the Romans at the winter solstice. Jesus' crown of thorns is also associated with holly.
But even though holly and its red and green color due to berries and leaves were a part of Christmas, they still were not the primary colors of Christmas like other holidays. For example, Orange and Black are the primary colors of holidays due to their spooky feels and pumpkin. But it was not the case with Christmas. Eckstut says that despite holly’s deep historical roots, it took centuries for the link between Christmas and the colors of red and green to become as solid as it is today in many cultures. And today’s association of red and green colors with Christmas is thanks to Coca-Cola’s branding.
How Santa’s outfit and perception changed after Coca-Cola’s rebranding
In 1931, Coca-Cola - a well-established brand, played a significant role in Santa Claus’s portrayal we have been observing over the years. The central concept behind this campaign was to change how Santa Claus was perceived. Before 1931, Santa was intellectual, tall, lean, and sometimes even scary. Coca-cola hired an artist to create the character Santa Claus we see today. It was Coca-Cola’s concept to portray him as a happy, loving, and warm feeling that would resemble a loving grandfather. Coca-Cola wanted to know how to spread happiness around the world. This red Santa was on Coca-Cola’s bottles holding the classic glass coke bottle in his hand.
"Coca-Cola hired an artist named Haddon Sundblom to create a Santa Claus," says Arielle about the jolly holiday figure. Earlier, Santa Claus was usually thin and elf-like, and he wore red robes, but this particular artist created a Santa Claus we associate with today: fat, jolly, and robed in red. I believe it's no coincidence that the color of the Coke logo matches the r of Santa's robes; all these things came together and took hold in American culture."
There was one more change - before the campaign, Santa used to hold the pipe in his hands. But the artist who changed Santa’s appearance for Coca-Cola replaced the line with a coke bottle.
But why the red and green colors?
The next question that arises is, out of all the colors was were part of Christmas, why red and green colors out of all the colors ere were already being used for Christmas decorations? Symbolizeslizes growth, rebirth, money, safety, and natural fertility. Red represents danger, anger, passionate love, fire, and blood. Red is considered good luck in many Asian countries. Additionally, red is a color associated with magic and religion. These colors were also connected with holly. Hence, it was easy to solidify in our collective imaginations. Soon, Santa wearing red robes and snow-con Christmas trees became the Christmas holiday’s identity.
Even though it may have been a marketing strategy or branding, it doesn’t mean Christmas is not a great holiday. Christmas brings people and families together and makes the harsh winter times bearable with the help of food, gifts, decorations, and lights.
There is a lot of difference between how Christmas was celebrated in the early 19 century versus today. Over the years, Christmas has become a significant holiday worldwide. It has become cohesive and homogenous in all parts of the world. That’s why; it's the most beautiful time of the year!
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