Halloween in Spain, particularly in the north of Spain, is nothing like the commercialised spectacle that takes place in the USA.
In fact it is more of a traditional festival closely related to the religious holiday of All Saints Day, honouring the dead and celebrating the perpetuation of life. Halloween in Spain is a three-day celebration starting on the October 31st with Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), followed on the 1st of November with Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) and then finishing on the 2nd of November with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Also, Spaniards and Mexicans often go to see the play of “Don Juan Tenorio” one week before, of which the main topic revolves around death.
Halloween is widely celebrated in the north, more than any other area of Spain. Here, the Celtic tradition of Halloween still has an influence to this day. In Galicia, which is known for its rich folklore and ghostly legends, on the 31st of October, they celebrate Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) with the rest of the world then. Festivities on this night include carving pumpkins, throwing a costume party or even lighting a bonfire. In some cities, people walk around, some holding candles, in the memory of the dead. Kids will also go trick-or-treating but this isn’t as popular.
One of the many highlights of the celebration is the special tradition for Halloween in Galicia, the Queimada. It is a punch drink unique to the area, which is made from the Galician spirit aguardiente and flavoured with unground coffee beans, sugar, and lemon rind or orange peels. Dating back to the 11th century, the queimada is traditionally prepared within a pumpkin and consumed after reciting a spell known as the esconxuro.
Many people now, though, prepare this drink in a specially designed clay pot that comes with cups to drink from. The best time to do this performance is during the night after dinner. The tradition of the preparation ritual includes theatrically chanting spells to ward off the bad spirits that lie in wait for men and women to try to curse them.
The drink is set alight to burn slowly as more brandy is added. The spell is then recited whilst holding up a ladle of the burning liquid and then pouring it slowly back into the container as many times as it takes for the full spell to be completed. Because the caramelised sugar produces a pretty blue flame, it is popular among tourists. With this drink made of fire, “Devil-be-gone”!
For Dia de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day) which is celebrated on the 1st November the tradition in northern Spain is that locals would prepare pastries called Huesos de Santo (Bones of the Holy). This is a traditional delicacy that is a roll made out of egg yolks, stuffed with marzipan. On this day families will take these treats with them when they visit their loved ones’ graves.
Halloween in Spain – Esconxuro Spell
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Halloween in Spain – Santa Compaña
Galicia is known for its ghostly folklore. One such mystical belief is that of Santa Compaña, the procession of the dead.
This particular procession is led by a local living person who will be carrying a cross or a cauldron of holy water or both and is followed by the souls of several of the dead holding lit candles. The legends mention of the souls on a horseback followed by a sniffer dog.
These souls can only be seen, it is said, by some; those who were wrongly anointed with the Oil of the Dead instead of holy water at their baptism or those with the ability to see spirits. The scent of melting wax, however, can be easily smelled on the night breeze as the procession passes, warning of its presence.
The living leader of the procession is compelled by a mysterious curse to go out and lead this procession but will have no recollection of this the next day. The procession will go from midnight to daybreak when the leader will return to their bed with no memory of what they have done the next morning. They do, however, feel very tired – as though they got no sleep the previous night.
The only way to be freed of the curse is if the leader comes across another person during their nightly procession who they can give the cross or cauldron to along with the curse. If the curse is not passed onto another person, within weeks the leader will become pale, sickly and thin with death the end result and will see the curse pass onto another local unknowingly.
It is possible though, should you come across the Santa Compaña that you can avoid getting the curse by drawing a circle around them or lie flat on the ground whilst the procession passes. Other ways to avoid the curse is to tie a black cat in the middle of the path of the procession and run away.
Alternatively, if you have nothing to draw a circle with or no black cat conveniently to hand, you can make hand symbols to ward off the Santa Compaña. With both hands, you can give the horn gesture by keeping up your index and little finger whilst folding down your other fingers. The other hand gesture you can make is the Fig sign, by closing your fist and putting your thumb between your index and middle finger.
Like the Banshee in Ireland, the purpose of the Santa Compaña is to visit the homes of those who have a death due in the near future.
Halloween in Spain – San Sebastian Horror & Fantasy Film Festival
A more lighted hearted take on the festivities of Halloween is the San Sebastian Horror & Fantasy Film Festival. This festival has been running from 1990 and as the name suggests this is no ordinary film festival. It an enormous horror and fantasy fiesta that is packed with performances, music, street shows and exhibitions.
Find out more on their website.
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Originally published on 27th October 2017