We 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 colours?
We 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.
Applying the same principal to Ramadan
Keeping this pattern in mind, we 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. We 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, we 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, we’re 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 us 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.