We may think that such a purely pagan tradition as Halloween could never enter the borders of Spanish-speaking countries, which normally celebrate Christian traditions. This Language and Culture special shows a crossover between the pagan and the Christian traditions typical of this season.
Let’s have a look at what happens in Spain.
Halloween is one of the many traditions that Spain has borrowed from overseas. However, by putting their own personal stamp on it, each region makes of this Halloween season something special.
Spanish Halloween is a three-day celebration. It starts on 31 October with the typically pagan Día de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), followed by the Christian celebrations of Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) on 1 November, and Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead or All Souls Day) on 2 November.
The aim is to honour the dead and celebrate the continuity of life. The Día de los Todos los Santos, for example, is a public holiday, and families tend to gather at the grave of their deceased relatives with holy water, flowers, food, and drink in order to celebrate and socialise.
Celtic traditions still prevail in the North of Spain, which is why Halloween is probably celebrated with more enthusiasm than in the rest of the country.
Galicia, for instance, is famous for its rich local folk tales and ghost stories. On 31 October the Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) is celebrated with such activities as pumpkin carving, costume parties, bonfires, special ceremonies, and even trick-or-treating.
Queimada is probably the highlight of Halloween in Galicia. This a is a punch made from Galician augardente (Orujo Gallego) – a spirit distilled from wine and flavoured with special herbs or coffee, plus sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon. It is traditionally prepared in a hollow pumpkin. and drunk after reciting an esconxuro (a spell).
Typically, while preparing the queimada an esconxuro (spell or incantation) is recited, so that special powers are conferred to the punch and those drinking it.
The traditional Fira de les Bruixes (the Witches’ Fair) is a two-day festival that takes place every year in the small village of Sant Feliu Sasserra. It remembers those 23 women accused, prosecuted and sentenced to death during the Inquisition, after being accused of witchcraft.
La Castanyada is another popular Catalan festival celebrated on 31 October, where families and friends gather to eat together chestnuts, marzipan sweets called ‘panellets’, sweet potatoes and preserved fruits and drink moscatell.
Fiesta de Tosantos, or Fiesta de los Mercados, is a very original festival which takes place every 31 October in Cadiz, even though not typically Halloween style.
While the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Halloween spreads throughout Spain, in Cádiz around 80 market stalls take part in this festival. They’re all decorated with fruits, vegetables, meat or fish, and create elaborate displays depicting scenes and characters from the latest financial, political, or social scandals.
Halloween in San Sebastián coincides with the annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, The festival is an enormous horror and fantasy knees-up, packed not only with films but also with street shows, performances, music, comic encounters and exhibitions. This is a family festival, where children’s tasta is also catered for.
We can see that in a country considered typically Christian and Catholic such as Spain, both Christian and pagan traditions co-exist. When it comes to the Halloween season, with each region leaves a mark in their own special way.
Now, what happens in other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America? Follow us in this sequel of our Language and Culture Special: Halloween in Spanish-speaking countries.