We are accustomed to red and green as the primary colors of the Christmas season. But this is more of a modern cultural notion. In church history, the primary colors of the advent season are purple or dark blue.
These colors conveyed several important concepts. First, they reflected royalty and signaled the expectation of the coming King. Second, purple was a color of penitence. For us, the entire season is one of joy and celebration. But for many throughout church history this period before Christmas was marked by sobriety and somber expectation. It is certainly good news that the High King is coming. But we should never forget that he is coming to rule. And that calls me to submit to his reign. Bear in mind that advent also foreshadows his second coming. And while this is the great hope of the believer, the prophets consistently reminded the people that his arrival would be in power and great glory.
Some have asked why one of the advent candles is pink. Again, the advent season was often marked by a degree of heaviness. The pink candle was highlighted on the third week of advent. As the color of joy, it reminded them of their certain hope in the midst of their sober reflection.
The arrival of Christmas day marks the beginning of the actual Christmas season. This season of celebration lasts for twelve days (This is where we get “the twelve days of Christmas”). During this season, the colors shift to white and gold.
We are certainly not bound by these advent practices. But we can be enriched in our understanding of the incarnation by learning from those believers who have gone before us.