I asked a group of young Muslim mothers from Canada, United States and United Kingdom about some of their greatest problems celebrating Muslim holidays with young kids in Western countries. 75% of mothers ranked the lack of symbols, colours and traditions to be their greatest pain point with Muslim holidays and said they would like to see this problem addressed.
How did North American holidays get assigned colors?
I hit the books to figure out how each North American holiday got its colours and noticed a pattern. North American holiday colours aren’t determined at random nor are they necessarily influenced by the season in which a holiday occurs. Rather, holiday colours are directly informed by the traditions of the holiday.
For example, Halloween is orange and black because Halloween’s tradition is to put out Jack-O-Lanterns at night. So, orange becomes the colour of Halloween because it represents the Jack-O-Lantern and black becomes the colour of Halloween because it represents the night.
The origins of Christmas’ red and green are more obscure but it’s thought that the colours stem from when people used poinsettia and holly plants for the Roman festival of Saturnalia – both plants are red and green. Today, Christmas traditions are thought of more in terms of Santa (red) and Christmas trees (green).
Sometimes a holiday can occur in spring or summer but still have dark colours associated with it. For example, graduation is a holiday most prominently associated with May/ June but rather than using bright summery colours to depict graduation, classic graduation decor uses black (the colour of traditional graduation robes), gold (the traditional colour of tassels on grad caps) and white (the colour of diplomas.) In this way, you can see once again that the seasons don’t necessarily inform holiday colours – traditions do.
Ramadan Colors and Eid al Fitr Colors
Keeping this pattern in mind, I analyzed Ramadan’s traditions. The only Ramadan traditions that are cross-cultural are the religious traditions so that’s what we used to determine a pattern. I noticed that Ramadan’s religious traditions are based around the theme of “night.”
For example, the dates for Ramadan and Eid are determined by sighting the moon at night. Fasting is a core tradition of Ramadan and food is a central cultural element of Ramadan. However, food is only consumed at night (at sunset or before dawn). If you have any memories of great meals you’ve had in Ramadan, they were all probably at night. Tarawih prayers are a uniquely Ramadan tradition and only occur at night. Lastly, one of the most important traditions of Ramadan is the Night of Power (Laylat Al-Qadr) and its central idea is to stay up the entire night in worship.
Typically, in North America when a holiday’s traditions occur at night such as Halloween or New Year’s Eve, black is the colour of choice. However, it would be hard for Muslims to create a unique holiday identity in North America with black since Halloween and New Year’s Eve both use crescent and star motifs (the crescent and star is the international symbol of Islam). Similarly, blue (another colour to represent night), is the official colour for Hanukkah which may lead to confusion between the holidays of minority religions. Instead, I suggest purple as the primary colour to represent Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Here’s why.
- Purple is a colour associated with twilight, the time we break our fast. (Have a look at the pictures below).
- Purple is a colour associated with a starry night sky. (See pictures below.)
- Purple represents mystery. Ramadan certainly has an air of mystery; for example the exact date of Night of Power each year is an intentional mystery. For those who follow the Local Moon Sighting Method, even holiday dates are a mystery, only known for certain the night before.
- Purple represents spirituality. Ramadan is of course a time of year associated with spirituality.
- Purple in Western culture is a colour of majesty. In some Muslim cultures around the world (ex. Turkish), the month of Ramadan is regarded as the Sultan of all the 12th months in a year, or the King of all the months. Therefore, there’s a connection with purple in this regard as well.
- Purple is not the primary colour for any other North American holiday yet. Purple is, however, the colour of Lent in churches (and hence one of the colours of Mardi Gras) but for anyone who doesn’t know what Ramadan is (a lot of people) they can at least gather it’s a period of self-restraint similar to Lent because they share the same colour (albeit for completely different reasons.) Similarly, you may also occasionally see purple used for Halloween because of purple’s relation to nighttime.
- It’s helpful that Disney’s Aladdin, a story adapted from A Thousand and One Nights (again we see this theme of night in Muslim culture), has already subconsciously established this connection of purple with Muslim culture in the minds of American people. Curious George’s new Ramadan book also uses a purple cover because purple is a colour to depict night.
Along with purple, I’m also using gold to represent stars and white to represent the crescent moon. Gold, however, represents light in general (not just the light of stars) since light is needed at night to perform traditions. (Additionally, the Quran is often referred to as a ‘light’ and Ramadan is the month when the Quran was revealed.) You may also see me use a touch of blue and pink here and there because those are two colours we see, along with purple and gold, at sunset (the time to break fast in Ramadan.) Have a look at the pictures below to see how purple represents twilight and night.
For more examples of purple skies at twilight and at night, see my Pinterest board.
Why not green?
Islam doesn’t technically have a colour but green is a colour that most Muslims culturally associate with Islam. Some people believe this is because green was the Prophet Muhammad’s favourite colour. Others suggest that green is the colour of Islam because people of Paradise will wear green clothes as mentioned in the Quran. Yet still, others say that green is the colour of Islam because Muslim armies in antiquity and medieval times used green flags.
However I suggest staying away from green for Ramadan for two main reasons.
As mentioned, holiday colours in North America are determined by the holiday’s traditions. Green is not typically a colour that is used to represent night. In North America when green is used for a holiday, the holiday has a tradition associated with trees, plants or grass. For example, St. Patrick Day’s tradition is to wear a green shamrock on your clothes (since St. Patrick taught Christianity to Ireland by using a shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity). Green is used for Christmas because people literally cut down a tree and bring it into their home. Green is even used for Easter, or unofficial holidays like the Superbowl, because these holidays have a correlation with grass (bunnies hop on grass and football is played on green turf).
Ramadan’s core traditions don’t have a strong connection with trees, plants or grass. Instead, Ramadan’s traditions connect to nature in a celestial way (hence purple).
Secondly, Ramadan’s traditions are very different from the traditions of Hajj and story of Ramadan is very different from the story of Hajj. Small children learn about holiday traditions with colours and symbols. If both Muslim holidays use green because “green is the colour of Islam”, small children won’t be able to learn about how the two holidays are different. The purpose of holiday colours and symbols is to communicate the traditions or story of the holiday. You’ve likely heard the last ten nights of Ramadan are blessed and the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah are blessed. That’s literally a difference of night and day. We think that should be reflected in the theme used for each holiday.
What if I don’t like purple?
Please keep in mind that holiday colours are not about personal preference to a colour. For example, it’s generally accepted that blue is a colour liked by most people. However, the official colour of Christmas, the most popular North American holiday, is not blue. Similarly orange is a colour that a study showed most people dislike. Yet, it’s one of the official colours for Halloween, the 2nd most popular holiday in North America. This shows that holiday colours are not determined based on which colours people like. They’re about which colours represents the traditions of the holiday.
Also keep in mind, a holiday doesn’t need to have bright, happy colours for kids (or people in general) to like it. Think about Thanksgiving’s official colour palette. It’s not bright but that doesn’t mean people don’t enjoy the holiday. Each holiday has it’s own aesthetic because each has its own unique traditions. It’s important to embrace and celebrate the traditions for what they are. Ramadan’s traditions correlate with the night, and if this holiday were to follow the same pattern as other North American holidays, its colour also needs to represent the night.
To see what a purple Ramadan looks like, refer to any of our posts from 2016 onwards (or check out our Instagram hashtag #purpleramadan). To see how purple will look in the context of a home, please check out the summer issue of Sweet Paul magazine where we show you how to decorate your home with purple for Ramadan.
Hajj and Eid al Adha Colors
As I’ve mentioned, the rule for holiday colours in North America is that traditions inform colours. Here are some colours that help convey the traditions of Hajj and Eid al Adha.
Black is the colour of the Kaaba. It is also the colour of some animals, like sheep and cows which represent the tradition of sacrifice.
White is the colour of the clothes pilgrim wear while on Hajj. It is also the colour of some animals, like sheep, which agains represents the tradition of sacrifice.
Brown, in various shades, is colour of animals such as sheep, goat, cows and camels which represent the sacrifice offered at Eid. This is similar to how we use brown to represent Thanksgiving because turkeys are brown and we have a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.
As mentioned, in North America, green is used for a holiday when it has some correlation with grass, trees or plants. The animals that are typically used for Eid al Adha, such as sheep, goats and cows, eat and graze grass. (In some cultures, the sacrifice of a camel is more common in which case a sandy shade of brown can be used to represent the camel’s environment.) This is similar to how we see green used at Easter because bunnies hop on grass.
If you’ve grown up with the idea that “green is the colour of Islam”, you don’t have to give it up completely. But keep in mind that based on the North American pattern, it works for Eid al Adha, not Ramadan/ Eid al Fitr. Green helps set the scene for Eid al Adha’s animals and helps convey a day-time aesthetic (remember: Ramadan emphasizes blessed nights whereas Dhul Hijjah emphasizes blessed days.) Additionally, Eid al Adha is known as the “Greater Festival” so if you’re really tied to the idea of using the “colour of Islam” for Muslim holidays, here you are getting to use it for the more religiously significant holiday.