Halloween: differences between Spanish and Irish tradition

By Judit Sadurni / September 30, 2020
Halloween: spanish vs irish tradition

What are the differences between the Spanish and the Irish Halloween traditions? The origin of the word Halloween dates back to the 16th century. The name literally means “All Hallows’ Eve”, and it was parto of a celebration of the dead in Pagan and/or Celtic traditions. The feast of All Saints is celebrated on November 1st, followed by the “All Souls’ Day”, celebrated on November 2nd. 

 

Although Christianity has appropriated it to celebrate the saints and guide people to heaven, it also coincides with the pagan calendar. According to history: In the 15th century it was Charlemagne who established the festival in the ecclesiastical calendar, followed by Pope Gregory IV, who spread it throughout the Holy Empire. Finally, the festival was ruled mandatory for Christendom in 1475, by Pope Sixtus IV. 

 

Otherwise, in the Celtic tradition, November 1st signified the new year of the Celtic calendar: the feast of Samhain. This celebration begins the night before, and consists of honoring the deceased through magical rites. The meaning is that, that night, the real world and the dead world are communicated and alive people should take care and honor their deceased. 

 

Is there Halloween in Spain?

 

In Spain, the Christian and pagan traditions have been preserved, which has led the tradition being celebrated in different ways in each part of the country. Even so, the message is always the same one: the fear that deceased people will not rest in peace and may take people with them to the afterlife. 

 

The encounter between the living and the dead revolves around a tradition that brings families together around the bonfire with chestnuts, sweet potatoes and typical sweets. These are also offerings that will help the deceased rest in peace and not torment those  who are living. 

 

Nowadays, this celebration is almost extinct in Spain. Most of the people no longer celebrate it in the same way and, if they do it, it is usually following the American way, which in turn is an adaptation of the Irish tradition. 

castanyada vegueries panellets

Spanish traditions:

 

  • Magosto: it is a celebration originally from Galicia. Although, it is also celebrated in other parts of Spain such as: Salamanca, Cáceres or Zamora. 

 

  • Castanyada: in Catalonia it focuses on the ‘chestnut tradition’, accompanied by Moscatel wine, sweet potatoes and. The chestnut women go down the street selling chestnuts wrapped in newspaper. Panellets, the traditional sweet of All Saint’s Day, are small cakes of different sizes, made mainly of marzipan. The most famous are covered in pine nuts. 

 

  • Gaztanierra (Basque Country), Magosta (Cantabria) and Amagüetsu (Asturias): these celebrations are based on the same tradition as the previous ones, but chestnuts are accompanied by sweet cider. 

 

  • Fira de Tots Sants de Concetaina: This fair is celebrated in Valencia, is held for three days and incorporates street stalls related to agriculture, livestock and, in general, medieval craft activities. In 2012 it was declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest and in 2019 it became known internationally.

 

  • La Moragá/Calbotá: In addition to being the traditional name for roasted chestnuts, it is celebrated on All Saints’ Day. It is a tradition very similar to the other ones but it also incorporates dried figs, walnuts and pomegranates. It is celebrated in Castilla y León.

 

  • Noche de las Ánimas: In Aragón, in the past, the bells rang all day for the dead and, in the houses people prayed the rosary. They ate nuts and told scary stories during the night. The children also used to empty their pumpkins, put a candle inside them, and walked through the villages at night. 

 

  • Fiesta de Todos los santos: In Andalucía it is customary to meet with the whole family to eat typical autumn meals suchs as chestnuts, sweet potatoes and persimmons. On November 1st, many families go to cemeteries to visit the graves of their deceased ones and renew their flowers. 

 

  • La Chaquetía: This is the name given to the afternoon snack on November 1st or 2nd, that is made in the Extremadura countryside. They eat seasonal fruits such as figs, walnuts, acorns, pomegranates, chestnuts and quince paste. It’s also called Magusto, as in Portugal.

 

  • La noche de los cuentos de ánimas: In Murcia, tradition dictates that people must clean and tidy the houses for the arrival of the deceased. While the living await the dead they must tell tales and legends of the past. 

 

  • Sa Trencada: Traditionally, in the Balearic Islands, the night of all saints was celebrated in the house where the whole family gathered to make a dinner called “Sa trencada”, which consisted of a meal based on nuts, seasonal fruit, panellets and bunyols (sweets soaked in sweet wine). 

 

  • Noche de los Finaos: Finao means dead or deceased person. This Canarian tradition begins on October 31st, when the oldest woman in the family told anecdotes about the dead people in the family. These stories were accompanied by walnuts, chestnuts and almonds, also with sweet wine, anise or honey rum. 

 

Although all the traditional Spanish festivals are directly related to Celtic culture, the one that has inherited the most traits is the Galician Magosto. For the celts, the arrival of winter marked the beginning of the dark year. To celebrate it, the chestnut was collected, and their fruits were roasted in large bonfires, because fire is a sacred symbol within Celtic culture.  

 

In fact, in Magosto it is a tradition that the heaters are left on all night, thereby, the dead can find their way home, rest and take the food offerings that their relatives have prepared for them. This is the point of connection between the Galician (Samaín) and the Irish (Samhain) celebrations: before potatoes and corn arrived in Ireland from America, chestnuts and acorns were a fundamental part of the diet of the Celtic people. 

 

What is the Irish tradition based on? 

 

In the 19th century, the Irish sailed to North America, bringing their traditions there. So, the tradition of American Halloween is nothing more than the heritage of Irish customs. 

 

Traditionally in Ireland this festival was the moment of the year when ancient pagan Celts stored supplies and slaughtered livestock to prepare for winter. They thought that on the night of Samhain, the dead spirits would revisit the mortal world. That is why they lit great fires, to drive away evil spirits and guide the good ones towards eternal rest. They also dressed in scary masks and costumes, to scare them away. 

 

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Irish myths and customs

 

  • Trick-or-treating is a custom in which children dress up and go around the neighbourhood asking for treats. When the neighbours open their doors they ask: “trick or treat?”, and then, they do a little performance to earn their treats. 

 

  • The Jack-o’-Lantern is an American-Irish tradition that tells the story of Stingy Jack, an old farmer who, after trapping the demon in a tree, was condemned to wander eternally in the dark with a candle inside a turnip.

 

  • Banshees are the spirits of women who bring with them the omen of death. Many times she appears in the form of an old woman, other times as a beautiful young woman or even as a laundry woman. The legend says that when they scream, they are capable of killing whoever who hears them. Something similar are the Pookas/Puca’s, who used to appear in rural areas or near the sea. They can be a symbol of good or bad fortune and also can cause mischief. 

 

As we have seen, there is a lot of Irish heritage in the Spanish traditions. The current American version of Halloween has become more popular in Spain. Although, it is true that there are traditional Spanish elements that are seen in all the celebrations around the country, such as: chestnuts, dried fruits and sweet wine. Did you know that Halloween is a celebration of Irish origin? You may also be interested in reading these articles about Irish traditions:

 

 

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Judit Sadurni

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