When it comes to Halloween, many of us have a few immediate associations: pumpkins, costumes, and loads of candy. We also tend to think of the traditional Halloween colors of orange and black, which leads me to wonder: Why are orange and black Halloween colors, anyway? To be fair, holidays are frequently associated with certain colors; Christmas is perhaps the most obvious, with the combination of red and green often being referred to as "Christmas colors." These various color combinations appear all over the place — but if orange and black are so cemented into our cultural understanding of Halloween, what exactly do they represent?
According to the Halloween-focused website Isle of Halloween, the colors of black and orange were chosen intentionally because they function as "opposites." For example, orange is typically associated with the warmth of autumn — the changes of leaves, the decoration of pumpkins, the results of the fall harvest (as Care2 explains, we've associated the color orange with harvest season, which is generally in October, throughout history), and so on and so forth. It's a lively color that we experience in nature only a few times a year, one of which is around Halloween.
On the flip side, we have black. We typically associate the color black with darkness, nighttime, and "evil," which already gives it a spooky edge; beyond that, though, as Isle of Halloween explains, we also associate it with the underworld and spirits. Indeed, as Isle of Halloween notes, "The Celts and Druids celebrated Samhain and welcomed the spirits of their ancestors" — so the connection between the color black and the holiday of Samhain or Halloween makes a certain amount of sense.
Furthermore, as Bonny Wolf explains over at NPR, black is frequently the color associated with death, which sums up a lot of our cultural fascination with Halloween pretty neatly. Our preoccupation with the color black and its murky connotations comes up even in our costumes and decor: Consider the popularity of black spiders, black witches hats, black masks, black cauldrons, and more.
On some level, though, the color choice does seem to be somewhat arbitrary. Sometimes, things just become part of our cultural landscape without anyone knowing how or why. Still, it's always fun to know a little bit of history about our favorite holidays, especially if you like showing off your trivia knowledge for your friends. Happy Halloween season, everyone!
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