Halloween in Spain: traditions, curiosities and tips!

Madrid in Autumn has a unique charm. The streets are stained brown and yellow by the trees. The weather is at the ideal temperature, perfect for walking and even for enjoying a drink or two on the terraces. During the first Autumn I spent in Spain, I was surprised by many things when I went […]

Madrid in Autumn has a unique charm. The streets are stained brown and yellow by the trees. The weather is at the ideal temperature, perfect for walking and even for enjoying a drink or two on the terraces.

During the first Autumn I spent in Spain, I was surprised by many things when I went for a walk after my Spanish classes in Madrid. The first was the faint smell of chestnuts roasting that started to drift through the streets at the end of October, but I will come back to that later. Walking past shop windows I was struck by the elaborate decorations in each one, laden with garlands of skulls and bats, fake cobwebs and every other type of Halloween decoration. I always thought that these celebrations only happened in the English-speaking world so, upon realising that November 1st was a bank holiday, I decided to investigate what it was all about.

Halloween: how it started

Halloween means “All Saints’ Eve”. In many cultures it is related to the time of the year in which people believe that the dead are closest to the living. The most well-known origin of Halloween is Celtic. They believed that the end of Summer and Harvest gave way to a new year, this began with one night in which the dead rose up to visit the world of the living.

Whilst the exact dates and location can be argued, everyone agrees that Halloween has a special connection to the dead. Whether to honour, remember or to ask for protection, the dead come alive on Halloween.  However, did you know that in Spain this festival has its own particular history and customs? In this article I will tell you everything that I have learnt!

 

 

 November 1: All Saints’ Eve in Spain

In Spain, All Saints’ Eve owes its origins to Christianity. As a result, they celebrate Halloween the day after most other countries. Similar to the original Celtic Halloween, it is a day dedicated to the memory of the dead. This was encouraged by the Church to honour the memory of Christian martyrs; those that risked it all and died for what they believed in. Hence, the Spanish light many candles at this time of year in their honour.

Besides, Spanish children don’t go trick or treating like most Western countries. This tradition has only recently become the norm due to the popularity of Halloween in the United States. For that reason it is increasingly common to see stained glass windows decorated with carved out pumpkins, however it is still an “imported” custom. As I said before, there is something very special about Autumn in Madrid: walking through the streets there is an aroma you can’t quite put your finger on…

Chestnuts instead of pumpkins

Unlike the Halloween with pumpkins and sweets I am used to, in Spain they choose to eat roasted chestnuts. For that reason, the streets are heavy with the smell since they are sold on most street corners. In many regions, they roast the chestnuts on big bonfires, they then peel and eat them in graveyards; they are often offered to the dead so that they can rest in peace. In fact, different parts of the country have their own versions. For example, “el Gaztainerre” in the Basque Country, “Castanyada” in Catalonia or “Noche de los Finaos” on the Canary Islands.

Another of my great discoveries is “los huesos de santos” (the bones of saints): typical sweets that you can only find in Madrid’s sweet shops at this time of year. My flatmate hates chestnuts so she has made the most out of the last few weeks to eat these sweets made from marzipan and filled with cream. Thanks to her I heard about them and fell in love instantly.

 

Despite the religious origins of November 1st, spaniards usually go out to parties the night before. Obviously the Spanish would never miss an opportunity to have fun with their friends. That’s why we love them! However, this year we all have to stay at home and look after ourselves. That’s why me and my flatmate have organised a marathon of classic 1980’s horror films. Of course, we are going to stuff ourselves with roasted chestnuts and “huesos de santos”.

Moreover, together with my friends from the Spanish language school, we have decided to dress up for a special class. Each person shared their experience on how their country celebrates Halloween.

What about where you live? Is there a special day in which you remember the dead? Are you going to celebrate it this year? Have you thought about contacting… the other side? Tell me your plans!

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