Pumpkins, autumn leaves, flickering flames, and golden chrysanthemums: Now is when orange comes into its own. Lanterns and bonfires push back against the deepening darkness.
The color got its name from the fruit tree, native to northern India. The Sanskrit name naranga traveled west with the fruit, reaching English as orange by the late 1300s. Sailors planted orange trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. It wasn’t until the early 1600s that the fruit’s color, formerly called geoluhread (“yellow red”), began to be called orange as well.
While seasonal bonfires are an ancient tradition, the prevalence of orange in mid-autumn decorations is distinctively American. Irish immigrants in the 1800s, accustomed to carving turnips for lanterns to ward off evil spirits on All Hallows Eve, discovered North American pumpkins worked even better. The brilliant, spooky orange of glowing pumpkin lanterns against the black of lengthening nights set the ubiquitous color scheme of late October.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.