How Black and Orange Became the Official Colors of Halloween

Maria Carter
·2 min read

Orange and black are so strongly associated with Halloween that, outside of the month of October, wearing the two hues together is practically taboo. How did this high-contrast combo come to represent one of the year's biggest holidays?

Although the ancient precursor to Halloween began with the Celts, the people who inhabited a territory spanning parts of modern-day France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, they didn't necessarily decorate with black and orange to mark the occasion. Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Celts' calendar year began on November 1, coinciding with the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed their new year's eve was a time when spirits of the departed returned and priests could make more accurate predictions about the future, according to Thus, they built bonfires and wore costumes to deter malicious ghosts.

Beginning with the most obvious association, black represents death, darkness, and the longer nights that winter brings. Much like Mexico's Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Celts relished the opportunity for contact with their departed ancestors. Black was a natural choice to represent the temporarily open doors of communication between the dead and the living.

Orange is the color of another Halloween staple, the Jack-o'-lantern, but pumpkins originated in North America, and All Hallows' Eve wasn't celebrated here until the 1800s. (The tradition of lantern-carving began in Ireland, where vegetables like potatoes and turnips were more readily available and thus served as the first makeshift lanterns for Stingy Jack. Following the potato famine of 1846, an influx of Irish immigrants began using pumpkins instead, solidifying the tradition in American culture.) Orange was likely chosen as the dominant color of fall, when leaves exhibit shades of orange and red not typically seen in nature during the rest of the year. It's also a tone associated with fire.

As Bustle notes, black and orange were deliberately chosen as high-contrast opposites, with orange symbolizing warmth and autumn, and black representing cold and winter.

Modern-day Halloween is a bona-fide commercial holiday, with more than 171 million Americans planning to spend an average $82.93 on the celebration—or $8.4 billion total—according to the National Retail Federation. There's no doubt that a chunk of that money will go towards all things black and orange: candy, costumes, decorations, you name it.

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