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Yellow: A Color of Joy, Caution, and Complexity

Yellow is the most luminous of all colors in the visible light spectrum. It catches our attention more than any other color. In nature, it’s the color of daffodils, bananas, egg yolks and sunshine and in our created world, it’s the color of Spongebob and the House of Hufflepuff at Hogwarts. But what does this color actually mean?

Let’s take a look at the history of this brilliant color, what it symbolizes and how it’s used in jewelry and fashion today.

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Symbolism of the Color Yellow

a tree in sunset

Yellow, a bright and lively color, means different things in different cultures. It often stands for happiness, hope, and energy because it reminds people of the sun’s warmth and light. Yellow is uplifting and can make people feel joyful and full of life. In many cultures, it also symbolizes wisdom and knowledge, linked to its bright, clear appearance like daylight.

However, yellow can have more than one meaning. It can warn of danger, as seen in traffic signs and hazard symbols, where it tells people to be careful. In some places, yellow represents negative feelings like jealousy, cowardice, or dishonesty.

In history and art, yellow has had various meanings too. In some Eastern cultures, it’s seen as sacred and royal. In Western art, it can show both light and life or fading and aging, depending on how it’s used.

Shades of Yellow

Yellow Candles

Yellow, a vibrant and versatile color, comes in various shades, each carrying its unique appeal:

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  • Lemon Yellow: A bright and pure shade, reminiscent of lemon rinds. It’s vivid and eye-catching, often used to create a fresh and energetic feel.
  • Canary Yellow: Similar to the color of a canary bird, this shade is lively and light. It’s often associated with joy and playfulness.
  • Golden Yellow: Rich and warm, golden yellow is reminiscent of gold. It exudes luxury and opulence and is often used in elegant and sophisticated designs.
  • Mustard Yellow: A darker, more muted shade, mustard yellow has a bit of a brown or green undertone. It’s earthy and somewhat subdued compared to brighter yellows.
  • Saffron Yellow: Inspired by the spice, this shade is deep and slightly orange-toned. It’s exotic and often linked to spirituality and tradition.
  • Amber Yellow: A warm, honey-like shade, amber yellow is cozy and inviting. It’s often found in nature and can have a soothing effect.
  • Creamy Yellow: Soft and muted, creamy yellow is almost pastel. It’s gentle and subtle, creating a calming and comfortable ambiance.
  • Sunflower Yellow: The bold, cheerful shade of sunflowers. It’s a happy and energetic color, reminiscent of sunny days.
  • Neon Yellow: Extremely bright and almost fluorescent. Neon yellow is attention-grabbing and modern, often used in contexts where high visibility is required.

Each shade of yellow offers a different mood and aesthetic, making yellow a remarkably versatile color in design, fashion, and art.

What Does Yellow Mean in Different Cultures?

traffic light

1. Western Cultures

In Western societies, yellow often means happiness, optimism, and sunshine. Its brightness brings joy and cheerfulness. But yellow also warns of danger, like in traffic signs.

Sometimes, it can mean cowardice or deceit in stories and popular culture. This shows yellow’s diverse meanings in the West, from sunshine’s happiness to caution and awareness.

2. Eastern and Asian Cultures

Yellow is very important in many Asian countries. In China, it’s linked to the imperial family and seen as sacred, symbolizing power and honor. In Japan, yellow stands for courage and nobility, reflecting bravery and high values. These meanings come from deep historical and cultural roots, showing yellow’s high status in these societies.

3. Middle Eastern Cultures

In the Middle East, yellow has many meanings. It can represent happiness and prosperity, often used in celebrations. But it can also mean mourning and loss. This shows how yellow can capture both joy and sadness in Middle Eastern culture.

4. Hinduism and India

In Hinduism and Indian culture, yellow is very significant. It means knowledge, wisdom, and happiness, and is worn during religious festivals, symbolizing purity and truth.

Linked to gods like Vishnu and Saraswati, yellow’s bright and happy color is seen as lucky. It plays a big role in Hindu religious and cultural life.

5. African Cultures

In Africa, yellow often means wealth, success, and high status. It represents earth’s richness and fertility, and is seen in traditional clothing and art. Yellow in African culture celebrates the continent’s rich natural beauty and resources.

6. Latin America

In Latin American cultures, yellow has complex meanings. It’s linked to death and the afterlife, but also to the sun’s energy and life. This shows the deep, varied cultural traditions in Latin America, where colors like yellow have both spiritual and life-affirming meanings.

Personality Color Yellow – What It Means

Girl wearing yellow color dress

If you love yellow, it shows that you’re an optimistic and cheerful person. You bring happiness and light to people around you, just like the sun that yellow represents. You’re usually happy and full of energy, lifting others’ spirits with your warmth.

Your choice of yellow also shows you’re creative and imaginative. You’re curious about life and open to new things. You like learning and thinking deeply, showing a smart and thoughtful side.

But, loving yellow also means you should watch out for not pushing yourself too hard to be happy. It’s great to be positive, but remember to take care of yourself too.

In short, your love for yellow shows you as a happy, lively, and creative person. You have a bright personality that brings joy to others. You’re like a ray of sunshine, always ready to spread happiness.

Positive and Negative Aspects of the Color Yellow

yellow smileys

Studies suggest that yellow can affect people’s minds both positively and negatively, but reactions vary from person to person.

Yellow’s warmth and brightness can boost mental activity and muscle energy. It helps activate memory, enhance vision, build confidence, promote communication, and stimulate the nervous system.

However, too much yellow can have negative effects. Being surrounded by too much yellow can make it hard to focus and complete tasks. It might also lead to increased aggression and irritation. Babies, for example, often cry more in yellow rooms, possibly because yellow can trigger anxiety.

Having too little yellow can cause fear, isolation, insecurity, and low self-esteem. A complete lack of yellow can make someone more cunning, rigid, defensive, or possessive.

So, it’s important to find a balance in using yellow – not too much and not too little.

The Use of Yellow in Fashion and Jewelry

yellow amber

Yellow plays a vibrant and versatile role in fashion and jewelry, often making bold statements. In fashion, yellow varies from soft pastels to bright neons, giving designers flexibility. It’s a popular choice in spring and summer collections, matching these seasons’ warmth and brightness.

Yellow clothing includes everything from fancy evening gowns to casual wear, each adding joy and energy. Designers mix yellow with contrasting colors like black, white, or navy for eye-catching looks. Yellow accessories such as scarves, belts, and bags can brighten up neutral outfits.

In jewelry, yellow’s luxury shines in gold, symbolizing wealth and style. Gold jewelry, classic or modern, brings sophistication. Yellow gemstones like citrine, yellow diamonds, and amber offer variety. Citrine, bright and sunny, is used in bold jewelry, while yellow diamonds add luxury to high-end pieces.

Wearing yellow in fashion or jewelry often shows confidence and cheerfulness. It’s for those who aren’t shy to stand out. Yellow pieces, from striking dresses to elegant gold necklaces, express optimism, creativity, and a love for life.

Origin and History of the Color Yellow

yellow flower art

While we tend to take colors for granted, it’s interesting to note that colors also have had their historical journeys. Here’s how yellow fared.


The color yellow is said to be one of the first colors used in cave art in the prehistoric times. The earliest known painting done in yellow was found in the Lascaux cave near the village of Montignac in France. It was a painting of a yellow horse dating back to over 17,000 years ago. Back then, yellow pigments were made from clay which meant they were quite common and easily available. Yellow ochre is a naturally occurring pigment that’s found in clays and is non-toxic.

Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, yellow was used extensively for tomb paintings. The ancient Egyptians used either orpiment, a deep, orange-yellow mineral or yellow ochre for the purpose of painting. However, orpiment was found to be highly toxic since it was made of arsenic. Although this was the case, the Egyptians still continued to use it regardless of its toxicity. It’s not clear whether they were aware of the harmful effects of the mineral or whether they simply chose to ignore it.

Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, yellow was a commonly used color in wall paintings in Roman towns and villas. It was often found in murals from Pompeii and the famous mosaic of the Emperor Justinian was created using yellowish gold. The Romans used an expensive dye made from saffron which was rich and less prone to fading than the clay pigments used by the Egyptians. They used this to dye their clothing and found it to be of much higher quality than other dyes and pigments that were previously used. 

Post Classical Period

During the period from 500 CE – 1450 CE, known as the ‘post-classical period’, yellow was the color of Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles and the man who betrayed Jesus Christ. However, it’s not clear exactly how this conclusion was made since Judas’ clothing was never described in the bible. Since then, the color came to be associated with jealousy, envy and duplicity. During the Renaissance period, non-Christians were often marked with yellow to denote their outsider status.

18th and 19th Centuries

With the 18th and 19th centuries came the discovery and the manufacturing of synthetic yellow dyes and pigments. These rapidly replaced the traditional dyes and pigments which were originally made from substances like cow urine, clay and minerals. 

The famous French painter Vincent van Gogh loved the color yellow, likening it to the color of the sun. One of the very first artists to make use of commercial manufactured paints, Van Gogh preferred to use traditional ochre as well as cadmium yellow and chrome yellow. He never made his own paints unlike many other painters at the time. Sunflowers in a vase is one is one of his most popular masterpieces. 

In the 20th and 21st Centuries

the weather project
The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson

In the early 20th century, yellow became a sign of exclusion. This was the time when Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe had to sew yellow triangles (called ‘yellow badges’) onto their clothing with the star of David on it, to set them apart from the Germans.

Later on, the color became valued for its high visibility. Since yellow can easily been seen from great distances even when moving at high speeds, it became the ideal color for road signs. Yellow was also extremely popular for use in neon signs, especially in China and Las Vegas.

Later on, in the 21st century, people began to use unusual technologies and materials to create new methods of experiencing yellow color. An example is the ‘Weather Project’ by Olafur Eliasson.

Myths and Superstitions Surrounding the Color Yellow

sailors in the sunset

1. Maritime Superstitions

Sailors have long seen yellow as an unlucky color. They believed that yellow could cause greed and problems among the crew, leading to bad luck like storms or shipwrecks. Thinking it could anger the sea gods, sailors avoided yellow on ships to ensure safety and unity.

2. Theater Superstitions

In theater, people often view yellow as a bad color for costumes or sets. The problem comes from yellow lighting being harsh and making it hard to create the right stage atmosphere. It can distract the audience and affect the actors’ performances. Some think yellow can jinx a play, causing bad reviews or audience reactions, despite newer lighting technology.

3. Symbol of Betrayal

Yellow is often linked to betrayal and dishonesty in various cultures. This comes from how Judas Iscariot is shown in yellow in Biblical art, symbolizing his betrayal. Beyond religion, yellow in literature and art can represent treachery and dishonesty, showing how colors often connect to moral judgments.

4. Healing and Protection

In some Eastern cultures, yellow has a positive meaning, seen as a color of protection and healing. People believe it can keep away evil spirits and negativity. It’s used in rituals and traditional medicine for health and recovery, symbolizing hope, vitality, and the life-giving qualities of sunlight.

Wrapping Up

While yellow is a color that’s loved by many people who claim that it makes them feel joyful, some people tend to find it annoying and hard on the eyes. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance and always use the color in moderation. A little yellow goes a long way and it makes for an excellent accent color.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.