Many holidays have certain colors associated with them. For example, orange and black are traditionally Halloween colors, while green, purple, and gold are the typical colors of Mardi Gras. Most people probably don’t give these colors a second thought. But have you ever stopped to think about why some of these colors represent the certain holidays they do? In this post, we’ll look at Hanukkah specifically. Why are blue and white Hanukkah colors?
What Is Hanukkah?
Commonly known as the festival of lights, Hanukkah (or Chanukah) commemorates two remarkable events: the reclamation of the Holy Land from the Seleucid army by a small group of Jews, and how one day’s supply of oil kept the menorah in Jerusalem’s Second Temple lit for eight days. A menorah holds nine candles, with one candle acting as an attendant to the other eight, which signify the eight days the menorah was kept alight back in 2nd century BC. On each night of the eight days of Hanukkah, one candle is lit with the flame from the attending shamash candle until all candles are lit.
Other acts of celebration involve eating foods that have been fried in oil, like the potato latke, or playing a game with a four-sided top called a dreidel. So far there hasn’t been many references to color. And yet it seems to be well known that blue and white, or silver, are Hanukkah colors and indications of the Hanukkah season, just as much as red and green herald Christmas.
However, unlike the blue and white of Hanukkah, the red and green of Christmas have physical connections to the season. Green can be found on Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe—popular decorations in homes patiently waiting for Santa; and red is seen on the apple in the Garden of Eden, on holly berries, bishop’s robes, and, of course, Santa’s suit. So where are blue and white even coming from?
Why Are Blue and White Hanukkah Colors?
The Parashat Sh’lach (Numbers 15: 38-41) reads that God instructed Jews to include a blue cord to the fringes, or tzitzit, of their clothing, which meant the inclusion of the color blue amongst the already white threads of the tzitzit. As a reminder of the sea and sky, the color blue then served as a reminder for God and their religious practice.
There was a particular shade of blue used in the tzitzit called tekhelet, which resembles the word takhlit, meaning “purpose or goal.” This specific shade of blue dye was procured from the Murex trunculus snail—its secretion of a yellow fluid turned purple-blue in the sun.
The color blue is undeniably meaningful to Judaism in reference to their religious text and practice. But what about its combination with the color white? Though the tzitzit is the first instance where blue mixes with white, the combination is claimed to be mostly derived from the colors of the Israeli flag, a Zionist flag designed by David Wolffsohn who took inspiration from the tallit, the partially blue, fringed and striped prayer shawl. Yet the colors of the flag have another source: “Judah’s Colors,” a poem by Austrian-Jewish poet Ludwig August Frankl. In the poem, he describes blue and white as the “borders of Judah; / White is the radiance of the priesthood, / And blue, the splendors of the firmament.”
Blue and White of Hanukkah
As a literal reminder of God and a literary reference to splendor, the color blue takes center stage, snugly surrounded by the color white, a symbol of the people who uphold Jewish teachings and whose ancient white tzitzit accepted the color blue. Not much can be said about their association to Hanukkah—there might not be a connection at all—but the festival and the colors are both important to Judaism, and that’s a pretty special thing to share.