The cruel winds of winter are coming but, before the winter blues hit us, we can all embrace the great tradition of Halloween. Old Hallows Night is an ancient tradition and allows everyone – young and old – justification to dress up, prance around in silly masks, make silly noises and perform tricks on folk that refuse to offer treats. HRreview would like to offer all our readers a great Halloween weekend. Remember to party responsibly, don’t overdose on sugar and watch where you’re waving those magic wands.

Getting dressed in costumes, attending parties, bobbing for apples, and trick or treating are just some of the Halloween activities that many children and adults look forward to. But how much do you and your colleagues really know about how the celebrations shadow ancient rituals?. The spookiest celebration of the year is a rich conglomeration of ancient religious and cultural rites that have evolved into our modern day tradition known as Halloween.

Here’s a brief guide to Halloween:

Halloween, as we know it, as well as many of the traditions associated with Halloween are a mixture of ancient religious practices that have been modified throughout the ages.

The Festival of Samhein

In order to explore the history of Halloween, we must go back in time about 3000 years to the archaic culture of the Celts. These were people who occupied the British Isles and France and could be found throughout other parts of Europe as well. This ancient people were like many other pre-Christian cultures practicing polytheism by worshipping the sun and moon as well as many other deities.

On the evening preceding the Celtic New Year, November 1, the Celts observed the festival of Samhein, pronounced (SAH-wen). This celebratory time was very important from a seasonal perspective. Samhein was the time by which all the crops had to be harvested and the domesticated animals were brought in for the winter. Obviously, many of the farm animals had to be slaughtered because there was not room to house all of them over the cold winter months. Because of this, Samhein became a great feasting time – a feast that honored Samhein, the Lord of the Dead. During Samhein, the spirits of the dead were believed to be able to wander the earth and visit their loved ones.

Although this was one of four major festivals of the Celtic year and it was a time of celebration, it also evolved into a time of trepidation for many. The ancient culture began to fear these spirits that were loosed on earth for a short time. They developed rituals such as lighting bonfires to scare the evil spirits away and the wearing of masks to blend in so the presumably hideous looking spirits would not bother the living population. Their ghostly white-robed priests, called Druids, would also be called upon to bless a sacred fire. Each household would carry a sacred ember home in order to ward off the presence of evil. Another eerie ritual performed on October 31 was the practice of human sacrifice. Criminals and other undesirables were put into large cages and burned alive at the hand of the Druid priests.

Roman and Christian Influence on Halloween

In the first century A.D., the Romans conquered Great Britain and subsequently began to impart Roman culture on existing Celtic culture. The Romans had their own version of fall feasting demonstrated by the feast of Feralia, which was the Roman day of the dead, as well as a feast dedicated to the goddess of fruit, Pomona.

During the third and fourth centuries Catholicism was introduced and Christians attempted to alter established pagan rituals. In an attempt to put a Christian slant on Halloween, religious leaders instituted All Saints’ Day or All Hallow’s Day. This fall celebration honored Christian saints as people attended extra masses. It also became a time to offer prayers for the deceased and visit their graves. Halloween got its name a few hundred years later when November 1 was declared a church wide holiday and the evening before was dubbed All Hallows’ Eve, hallow being an Old English word for “holy”.

Halloween Trivia to impress people in the office:

  • Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
  • The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night. They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
  • Halloween chocolate sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the United States.
  • Chocolate bars top the list as the most popular sweet for trick-or-treaters
  • Halloween is the 2nd most commercially successful holiday, with Christmas being the first.
  • Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.
  • Black cats were once believed to be witch’s familiars who protected their powers.
  • Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
  • Pumpkins also come in white, blue and green. Great for unique monster carvings!
  • Halloween was brought to North America by immigrants from Europe who would celebrate the harvest around a bonfire, share ghost stories, sing, dance and tell fortunes.