The Halloween colors of orange and black are so prevalent throughout the season that we may not even realize they are symbols. And yet not only are orange and black symbolically powerful individually, but they also form a yin/yang duality representing the connection between life and death. They are also a reminder that Halloween has always served a dual purpose as harvest festival and festival of the dead.
Orange is the lively and vibrant color of fall harvest time, found in ripened fruits, vegetables, and grains – most dramatically of all, of course, in our beloved pumpkins. Orange is also the most electric of fall leaf colors as they rage in defiance against the dying of the light. Orange is itself a potent blend of the energy and stimulation of red and the cheerfulness of yellow, psychologically generating a sense of well-being, optimism and an urge to take positive, forceful action. This makes sense on a physical level as we are fortified by the bounty of harvest time, buoyed by the volume and variety of foods brought forth from the good earth and saved from a winter of privation.
Orange is also the color of the tongues of flame that leaped high into the night from hilltop bonfires on October 31 to chase away evil spirits and welcome the return of departed friends and family during pre-Christian Samhain, and later, Halloween, celebrations. The orange of fire chases away the black of nighttime darkness and quells our primordial fears. And so to black.
Black is the color (technically, lack of color) of darkness, when things unseen can steal about, including beasts, malicious humans, and spirits set free to roam the earth on Samhain/Halloween. Black has also almost always been associated with death and mourning: the darkness of the grave, the dying of the light as summer and fall give way to winter, the color of our sadness at the loss of a loved one.
As Samhain became Christianized into All Hallows Eve and then Halloween in the Middle Ages, witches were demonized by the Church, accused of drawing their knowledge and power from Satan, and they became associated with the color black as well, with black cauldrons, cloaks, hats, and black animal familiars such as cats, bats, owls, and spiders. By the 20th century, as the Church loosened its grip on the Western world, witches evolved into a more ambiguous, sly, symbol of Halloween (and female empowerment, but that’s another story), further reinforcing the association of black with the holiday.
Finally, as to the orange-black duality, when we put the colors together they unambiguously herald Halloween, so much so that it would look odd to wear orange and black together in any other season. Together orange and black neatly symbolize the juncture of life and death, their inseparability, and the border between them that is permeable on the most spooky night of the year, Halloween.
More Halloween Reading:
by Edna Barth [HMH Books for Young Readers]
by Gerina Dunwich [Adams Media]