Traces of Colors IV – The History of Red


I hope you’ve started a colorful week, colorful and peaceful. Talking about colors while the colors of autumn make themselves felt is a special pleasure. Let’s get started!

Today, I want to take a closer look at colors. Let’s start with red, yellow, and blue, the primary colors. These colors represent different meanings in different times, places, and cultures. Each of them has positive and negative connotations. One reason for this is the popularity of a color belonging to a dominant culture; it can replace the color of a weaker culture. Secondly, significant events in countries can change the meaning associated with a color in that country, even in the world. Finally, a country with a long history and tradition can maintain the positive meaning of a color.


The word “red” originally comes from Old English “rēad.” Its roots can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European “reudh-.” In Sanskrit, the word “rudhira” means red or blood. In the English language, red is associated with the color of blood. Fire, the sun at sunset, and the sky are also strongly associated with red. The color red, representing fire and blood, is universally accepted as a symbol of the principle of life. Considering the meanings attributed to the color red, we can talk about its positive and negative connotations.

Positive Connotations: Red is believed to be the first color perceived by humans. In prehistoric times, Neanderthals sprinkled red pigment on the bodies of the dead as a way to give back the “warm” color of blood and life. During Anglo-Saxon times, red was believed to protect against evil, and trees and even animals were painted red. Warriors would coat their axes and spears with red paint to imbue them with magical powers. In ancient China, “chi” 赤, “zhu” 朱, and “jiang” 絳 all mean “red.” “Chihong” 赤紅 is the equivalent of “crimson” in English. “Zhuhong” 朱紅 means vermillion or bright red. “Jiang” 絳 means dark red. In some cultures, red symbolizes influence and authority. Red was also the sacred, invigorating color of the Chou Dynasty (1050-256 BC). Roman Catholic cardinals wear red hats, and kings often wear red. “Red carpets” 紅地毯 are still rolled out for important visitors’ arrivals or departures.

Red is associated with love and prosperity. In Chinese cultural traditions, red is linked to good luck, happiness, and celebration. On the eve of the Chinese New Year, elders give children “red envelopes” 紅包. “Red lanterns” 紅燈籠 are used to reflect auspicious symbols during celebrations. “Red Letter Day” is a lucky day. In Western festivals, red and green colors are immediately associated with Christmas. Another meaning of “chi” 赤 is sincerity and loyalty, for example, “wholehearted” 赤心. In Chinese theater, actors paint their faces red to show they are honest and upright characters.

Negative Connotations: Red has not always been perceived positively in every context; it has also had negative connotations in many cultures. The color of blood, red symbolizes danger, war, destruction, gender, sin, and murder. In Roman mythology, red is associated with the war god Mars. In ancient Egypt, red was the color of the destructive god Seth, who was said to have red hair and eyes. Red also signaled a call to arms for ancient Romans. Red flags are used by socialist revolutionaries.

An example from the Bible can be found in Isaiah: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” This reflects Christianity’s view of red as being associated with the blood of murder. The expression “caught red-handed” means to be caught committing a crime or with one’s hands stained with blood. In Arab culture, red is associated with “death,” and the person to be executed wears red to indicate the penalty or the end of their life. In many cultures, it’s clear that red is associated with negative aspects like anger or the red eyes of anger or blood/fire-related negativity.

One color, many meanings, isn’t it? Let’s also take a look at legends. In Turkish culture, red is associated with power, strength, beauty, and maturity. Red serves as a sign of biological maturity for both men and women. Red can also be evaluated as a sign of maturity in a different way. In a Kyrgyz legend called “Manas,” a red war flag signified that the hero had killed many people and thus gained an appropriate reputation.

To celebrate the arrival of spring, the importance of fire is great in the Nowruz festival, held on March 21. Nowruz essentially means “rebirth,” signifying the rebirth of nature after a long winter. The idea is to celebrate the beginning of new life for all forms of life. People gather around the fire, eat, dance, and jump over the fire, saying similar words in Northern Iran: Jump, jump on Wednesday, explain my fate on Wednesday, I take your weight, I take your lightness, I give my yellowness, give me your redness. The reason for desiring redness is that in Turkish and Azerbaijani cultures, yellow is associated with illness. “Giving yellowness” is interpreted as taking hold of illness, while “desiring redness” is simply a desire for a strong and healthy life.

At the beginning of the text, I said I would discuss three primary colors today, but I think one color will be enough for one article. I didn’t intend to talk so extensively about red, or any single color, to be honest, but words led to words. Let the other colors be saved for future sections.

For those who are curious, I have attached the sources I used.

Stay colorful, stay healthy.


Agirel, S. (2009). Colour Symbolism in Turkish and Azeri Folk Literature. Folklore 120(1), pp. 92-101.

Hasan, A. A., Al-Sammerai, N. S. M., & Abdul Kadir, F. A. B. (2011). How Colours are Semantically Construed in the Arabic and English Culture: A Comparative study. English Language Teaching, 4(3).

Hui-Chih Yu. (2014). A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Symbolic Meanings of Color. Chang Gung Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 7(1), pp. 49-74.