Red and green are so synonymous with Christmas that a tree decked out in other shades can feel downright subversive. And it certainly isn’t the only holiday with its own color scheme: Hanukkah paraphernalia tends to come in blue and white or blue and silver.
The most obvious explanation for blue and white being the colors associated with Hanukkah is the Israeli flag, designed by the Zionist movement in 1891 and officially adopted in 1948. The flag’s blue stripes symbolize those found on tallitot, traditional Jewish prayer shawls that are worn at synagogue, bar or bat mitzvahs, and Jewish weddings. So why are there blue stripes on tallitot? According to the Bible, the Israelites were told to dye a thread on their tassels with tekhelet, a blue ink from a sea snail, “so that they may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them.”
In 1864, the Jewish poet Ludwig August Frankl named blue and white “the colors of Judah” in a poem not so surprisingly called “Judah’s Colours.” An excerpt: “When sublime feelings his heart fill, he is mantled in the colors of his country ... Blue and white are the colors of Judah; white is the radiance of the priesthood, and blue, the splendors of the firmament.”
Blue and white come with universal associations, too. White suggests purity, peace, and light; blue is associated with the sky, faith, wisdom, and truth. (The expression isn’t “true blue” for nothing.)
And what about the silver we see in Hanukkah decorations? Well, some people think the holidays call for a little more sparkle, not to mention the popularity of silver menorahs. Blue and white clearly aren’t just the colors of Hanukkah; they’re symbolic all year long. L’chaim!
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A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2023.