Why Are Orange and Black the Colors of Halloween?

Halloween illustration in orange and black colors with a carved pumpkin and a spider

Many people associate black and orange with witches, ghouls, and vampires, but have you wondered why this is the case?

You may see why black makes the cut as a Halloween color. Bad people in horror films often wear black, and many creepy things happen at night in stories. But who would consider orange a scary color? Orange is kind of a fun color. It’s the color of oranges and friendship, and yet on Halloween, the color puts you in a creepy mood.

This post will help you understand how orange and black became the colors of Halloween.

Halloween Orange
Hex #EE5921
RGB 238, 89, 33
CMYK 0, 63, 86, 7

Halloween Black
Hex #1B1B1B
RGB 27, 27, 27
CMYK 0, 0, 0, 89

A Closer Look at the Color Black

Skeleton in black clothing symbolizing death reaches towards the camera

Okay, so Halloween began more than 2,000 years ago, and it was started by the Celts. The reason the holiday is associated with this particular culture is because their festival occurred on October 31.

The Celts believed that on October 31 the line that separates the living from the dead was blurred. This meant the boundary between the two was weak, and the dead might find a way to return to the land of the living.

The festival was called the Samhain festival, and the Celts would gather together to not only honor the dead but to also ward them off. After all, they couldn’t allow the dead to roam the earth should they find a way to cross into a world they left behind. It’s kind of strange that this day was celebrated, but humanity has always had a strange relationship with death.

The people would light bonfires to ward off ghosts, but they also did one more thing that might interest you: The people wore costumes.

Yes, the Celts wore costumes to help them ward off these wandering ghosts. Get ready for the next surprise. The costumes had to be black because it was vital that the dead were honored. The dead were loved ones; these people had to be respected even in this state. Black is the color of mourning and the color that let these ghosts know the living still cared for them.

It’s important to point out that the celebration did go through some changes with the passing of time and the influence of other cultures.

One celebration that influenced this holiday was a feast called All Martyrs Day, but this day was celebrated on May 13. The celebration was established by one of the many popes the world has seen, in this case it was Pope Boniface IV. This happened back in 609 A.D.

It was a dinner that everyone celebrated to honor Christian martyrs. The celebration was moved to the first of November by Pope Gregory III, and this pope decided that saints should be celebrated as well. The name of the celebration changed to All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day. Some translated All Saints’ Day to All-Hallows’ Eve, which you can see becoming Halloween, right?

Ghouls walking around at cemetery at night and hand coming out of the ground next to a gravestone

Costumes were still worn at this time, but it definitely included more Christian motifs like saints, angels, and devils. The celebration still took place at night and a lot of black was worn. You can see where all the ghouls and monsters came into the picture, and Halloween is starting to get even more interesting.

Still, when did black become a color that would honor the dead? The truth is the idea that black honors the dead isn’t universal. This idea came out of the Western culture and dates back to Roman times. The death of a loved one was honored with black. It told everyone else that someone was mourning. The color was worn for months or even one or two years after the passing of a loved one.

In Eastern cultures, white is worn to honor the dead and is used for another reason. Some of these cultures believe that death is a doorway towards reincarnation or the possibility of reincarnation. White symbolizes life and rebirth, which is the reason mourning folks would wear white when someone passed.

It’s clear that white didn’t make the cut regarding Halloween. Western society didn’t see death in this fashion. Sure, Western culture believed people might go to heaven after they died, but it wasn’t a sure thing because there was a darker possibility as well. Where a loved one ended up was a coin toss. When things are 50/50, it’s easy to see why people in Western cultures weren’t as positive about what might happen to loved ones after they passed.

White isn’t the only color associated with mourning around the world. Red has been used to celebrate and honor the dead in several countries in Africa. Red is used because it symbolizes blood. This is pretty strange when you consider that China bans red from their funerals because red is associated with happiness.

When you look at the reasons people use specific colors at particular stages of life, including death, you can understand why people chose those colors and what they might believe about death.

The reason people use black during Halloween is linked to superstition and religion, but it’s also because it was heavily influenced by Western culture.

Diving Into the Orange Color

Autumn landscape in a park with colorful orange leaves

Orange isn’t found in the history of Halloween, or at least that’s what it looks like.

Orange can’t even be found in the colors used to mourn people in Western society or any other society for that matter. How in the world did orange get mixed up with Halloween? That’s a slightly bigger mystery than black, but it’s something you’re going to learn about.

Some may say it was a natural pairing since many of these celebrations included a bonfire, and fire does have an orange appearance, but that connection hasn’t been fully established. What’s more likely is that orange was naturally incorporated into the holiday because the holiday comes in the fall.

Orange can be seen during autumn as the leaves start to change as if they were kissed by the sun. Some say the color was incorporated into the holiday because it contrasted black very well. You could believe that, but there’s no doubt the fall colors played a part. It should be pointed out that many autumn-based festivals use orange in their celebrations.

Many of these celebrations occurred in honor of harvest time. Fall festivals have evolved into many things like Germany’s Oktoberfest or America’s Thanksgiving.

All of these celebrations have roots in harvest time, a time to be happy about everything you were growing for yourself and your community. As plant-life turned to yellow-like colors, people sometimes used orange to symbolize the season. People could have easily turned to yellow, too, but for some reason, orange took the crown.

It wasn’t until Irish people started to migrate to the United States that the color really cemented itself into the holiday, and it was all because of pumpkins. You know which pumpkins you’re going to learn about: Jack-o’-lanterns. Some might think these pumpkins came out of nowhere, but they have a rich history.

Halloween pumpkin heads jack-o-lantern on a wooden background

America has never been kind to the foreigner. Sure, the statue of liberty tells the world that America is kind to the stranger, but the truth is that most immigrants suffer and go through a lot of rejection.

At some point, America began to accept the immigrant and their cultures, but it takes a while. Sometimes, they do it by adopting their food, which is part of the reason French fries are so popular here or the hamburger that became American even though it’s German. The same thing happened to the Irish in different ways. One way was through the Jack-o’-lantern.

The Irish would carve a face in a pumpkin during the fall in honor of Stingy Jack, hence the name. The funny thing is the Irish didn’t just use pumpkins to honor this so-called Stingy Jack. Some folks used potatoes and any other turnip that was harvested during this time. For some reason, Americans fell in love with the pumpkin and began to incorporate it into the Halloween holiday.

The Irish tried to carve out scary faces from the turnips or potatoes they used. It was in honor of Stingy Jack, but it was also to scare him away. It had nothing to do with the monsters and vampires associated with Halloween today, but you know how things evolve, and there was no way the scary pumpkin wasn’t going to become a part of the All Hallows Eve celebration in the United States.

Now, why were the Irish scaring off Stingy Jack? Who was this guy? It’s actually an interesting myth, and it had to do with the Devil. Yes, you can tell this was a Halloween story even though the Irish weren’t celebrating Halloween when this story came to be.

Okay, so this guy named Jack invited the Devil out for a drink, but apparently, Jack didn’t want to pay for it. Everyone knows that the person who invites you out to drink is the person who should pay for the drinks. You can already see that Jack was earning his stingy nickname. Jack came up with a scheme to get the drinks without paying for them. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so that he could purchase the drinks they were going to share.

Burning carved halloween pumpkin on a dark background

Satan has never been the kind of demon to say no to a scheme. Of course, he agreed to this trick, except Jack tricked him.

Jack’s stingy nature got the better of him. When the Devil turned himself into a coin, Jack placed the coin next to a silver cross he kept in his pocket. The Devil couldn’t turn back into his demonic self again as long as he was next to that silver cross. Jack couldn’t bring himself to give up the coin just for a drink; he was much too stingy to do that.

Jack did free the Devil at some point but not before the Devil made a deal with him. The Devil had to agree not to bother Jack for a year.

On top of that, should Jack die at any point during this year, the Devil couldn’t claim his soul. This gave Jack one year of freedom, but the year would end eventually. Stingy Jack came up with another scheme by the time the year ended. Apparently, the Devil and Jack got to talking. At some point, the two came across a fruit tree, and Jack wanted a fruit. He asked the Devil to climb and fetch a fruit since climbing isn’t a big deal for a demon with claws.

Jack quickly carved a cross on the tree trapping the Devil once again. The Devil had to make another deal with Jack. This time Jack was not to be bothered for ten years. This time around Jack wasn’t so lucky. He did not have ten more years of life.

Not long after he made the deal, Jack died, but God didn’t allow him into heaven. After all, Jack was so stingy he sought to trick the Devil so that he wouldn’t be bothered by him.

Jack was cast away from heaven, but the Devil also kept his word. He didn’t come up to claim Jack in those 10 years or any other time. Jack was stuck as a ghoul, roaming the forest with nothing but a burning coal that Satan left him. Jack had to carve out a turnip big enough to hold the burning coal, making himself a lantern to help him see in the darkest hours of the night. If the Irish saw a ghostly figure with a lantern, then they knew who it was; it was Jack of the Lantern or Stingy Jack. At some point, the name was shortened to Jack-o’-lantern.

This is how Halloween might have gotten its orange color, and it’s no doubt a spooky tale to tell.

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