Red Hair – History

red hair

Shades of red hair

There are different shade of red hair. Strawberry-blonde is the subtlest of the reds. Ginger (Isla Fisher) falls somewhere between strawberry-blonde and the classic red. The classic red (Jessica Chastain) is vibrant and deep. Deep red (Karen Elson) is a gentler version of the auburn tone, with all the rich darkness and none of the brown. The classic red is a gentler version of auburn. This colour has all of the rich darkness and none of the brown. Auburn (Debra Messing) is the darker side of the red family, that verges on being brown. Dark Auburn (Emma Stone) is the richest, deepest red.


People with red hair can be found all across the world throughout history across all continents. Several accounts by Ancient Greek writers mention people with red hair. Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red-haired. In Polynesian culture reddish hair was traditionally seen as a sign of descent from high-ranking ancestors.

Throughout history the Udmurt people of the Volga have been considered to be “the most red-headed men in the world”, a claim that still stands as the Volga region has more redheads per population than anywhere else in the world, with the exception of Ireland.

Red hair is also reported in history as being common amongst the Ashkenazi Jewish populations. Studies have found that almost 4 percent of Jewish women have red hair and almost 11 percent of Jewish men have red beards. In European culture red hair was often seen as a stereotypically Jewish trait. During the Spanish Inquisition, all those with red hair were identified as Jewish. Writers from Shakespeare to Dickens would identify Jewish characters by giving them red hair.

Today, red hair is most commonly found at the northern and western fringes of Europe and is commonly associated with the Celtic Nations. It is estimated that 10 percent of the Irish population have red hair and 40 percent carry the gene for red hair. Estimates for Scotland and Wales are slightly lower. Emigration from Europe has multiplied the population of red haired humans in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Biochemistry and genetics

The genetics of red hair, discovered in 1997, appear to be associated with the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), found on chromosome 16. Red hair is associated with fair skin colour because low concentrations of eumelanin caused by a MC1R mutation can cause both. The lower melanin concentration in skin has the advantage that a sufficient concentration of Vitamin D can be produced under low light conditions.

The MC1R recessive variant gene that gives people red hair generally results in skin that is unable to tan. Because of the natural tanning reaction to the sun’s ultraviolet light and high amounts of pheomelanin in the skin, freckles are a common feature of red haired people.

Red hair can originate from several changes on the MC1R-gene. The autosomal recessive mode of inheritance means that even if both parents do not have red hair themselves, both can be carriers for the gene and have a red hair child. Genetic studies indicate that the MC1R gene is not solely responsible for the red hair phenotype; unidentified modifier genes exist, making variance in the MC1R gene necessary, but not always sufficient, for red hair production.

Red hair festivals

Redhead Day is an annual festival in the Netherlands that attracts international red-haired participants.. The longest running of all Redhead Day festivals began in 2005, when Dutch painter Bart Rouwenhorst decided he wanted to paint 15 redheads. Today, the festival includes music, fashion shows, art exhibitions and more.

The Irish Redhead Convention, held in late August in County Cork, claims to be another of the international festivals. Here they crown a ginger King and Queen and have competitions including most freckles per square inch and carrot throwing.

The next UK Redhead Day will take place in May 2018.

Kibbutz Gezer (Carrot) in Israel has held red hair festivals since 2014 for the local Israeli red hair community, including both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi red-heads.
The first and only festival for people with red hair in the United States, was launched as Redhead Days in 2015 in Highwood, Illinois, Chicago.