If you walked into a Jewish home during Hanukkah (please make sure you’re invited to one… otherwise that’s called “breaking and entering”), odds are you’ll see two colors stand out: blue and white (sometimes silver).
What’s the deal with these colors?
A cynical fella might think: “It’s probably a way for Jews to keep up with Christmas”. Well, our dear Mr. skeptic couldn’t be more wrong…
In fact, blue and white are not just the traditional colors of Hanukkah; they’re the traditional colors of the Jewish tradition itself…
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Blue & White: Traditional Meaning & Symbolism
In the Torah, God commanded the Israelites to weave blue (tekhelet) tassels on the corners of their garments:
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹרֹתָ֑ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת׃ – בְּמִדְבַּר טו לח
Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. – Numbers 15:38
In Judaism, blue is the symbol of divinity: the color of the sky, the color of the ocean…
That’s why you’ll often see the color blue in religious and spiritual settings:
- Tallit prayer shawls often have blue stripes (with a white background)
- The Tefillin bag used to cover the Tefillin is often blue.
- In the synagogue, the Torah ark is often covered with a blue curtain.
Blue is also a symbol of peace, calmness, and tranquility. If you ever attend a guided meditation session, the instructor will often ask you to imagine a relaxing atmosphere like a beach or a clear blue sky.
Recent studies have also demonstrated that blue makes us feel more comfortable. A study in The Journal of Business Research showed that consumers found stores with a blue interior significantly more appealing. Shoppers were more likely to buy products in stores with a blue interior compared to stores with an orange interior.
White, on the other hand, is the symbol of purity and cleanliness.
That’s why Jews wear white on special occasions like Jewish weddings and holidays (especially during the Jewish high holidays).
White is also associated with light.
If you ever heard someone describe a near-death experience, you’ll notice they often describe it as a “bright light” or a “light at the end of a tunnel”.
Even in movies (like when Harry Potter speaks to Dumbledore in the spiritual world), heaven is often portrayed as a white, bright place.
Blue & White: Modern Examples
If you approached a random person on the street and asked them: “what colors come to mind when they think of Judaism?”
Odds are their response will be blue & white (or “I dunno”, but that’s not useful, now is it?). That person doesn’t have to be a Torah scholar to come up with that answer, either.
The reason blue and white immediately jumps to mind is that they saw it in a Jewish or Israeli context at some point in their life: whether they attended a Jewish ceremony like a Bar Mitzvah or Jewish wedding, a Hanukkah party, or just visited Israel on a trip.
The most obvious example is the Israeli flag 🇮🇱, which famously includes a blue Star of David, two blue stripes and a white background. The flag was designed by the Zionist movement in 1981 and officially adopted in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded.
Israel’s independence is strongly tied to the story of Hanukkah – where the Maccabees reclaimed the Jewish Temple and celebrated their Jewish independence. This connection between the two makes the choice of blue & white colors that more meaningful.
Did You Know?
In an 1860 poem called Zivei Eretz Yehudah (The Colors of Judah), Jewish poet Ludwig August von Frankl described the blue and white color choice as follows: “All that is sacred will appear in these colors: white — as the radiance of great faith; blue—like the appearance of the firmament.”
Speaking of Judah, the flag of Jerusalem combines the blue and white colors from the Israeli flag, the Lion of Judah symbol, surrounded by olive branches.
Blue & white is also prevalent in Israeli politics. In fact, the largest political party in Israel at the time I wrote this article (November 2019) is called Kachol Lavan (כחול לבן), which, you guessed it, means “Blue & White”.
Hanukkah Candle Colors (+ Other Decorations)
A common misconception is that Hanukkah candles MUST be blue & white. That’s wrong.
Hanukkah candles can be any color, and they often are (like these colorful Hanukkah candles!).
What about Silver?
Where does silver fit in the picture, you ask? Aside from silver Menorahs being a favorite among Jews, it doesn’t really. But it does look all shiny and sparkly! Just like Christmas decorations…
That’s right: Hanukkah decorations were heavily influenced by Christmas decorations… that’s why silver became the unofficial 3rd Hanukkah color. (Happy, Mr. Skeptic?)
Tip: Again, that doesn’t mean you have to decorate in silver, or blue and white for that matter. It’s a free country, decorate as you please!
Blue and white aren’t just some arbitrary color theme Jews adopt to “compete against Christmas” (hear that, Mr. Skeptic?).
That’s just a bonus…and a beautiful bonus at that!
When you decorate your home in blue and white, you’re continuing a long, meaningful and beautiful Jewish tradition.
Happy Hanukkah 🙂