Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and Samhain
Foto de Ylanite Koppens: https://www.pexels.com/es-es/foto/jack-o-lantern-sobre-superficie-de-madera-marron-1456121/
Your trusted Marbella real estate agent and property specialist on the Golden Mile.
Celebrating Halloween in Spain.
23rd October 2023
By Michael Dolan
Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and Samhain, are all lesser-known names for the 31st of October festival, now generally called Halloween. Celebrated all around the world, it was initially a Christian holiday marked on the eve of All Saints Day (November 1st); the religious feast that remembers the dead and honouring saints and martyrs.
Halloween is thought to have its true origins rooted much further back, in the pagan Celtic harvest festival ‘Sahwin’, which marked the end of the crop season and the beginning of winter. The pagan’s said that the veil between our world and the ‘Otherworld’ thinned on this night, allowing contact with the spirits; some even believed it was possible for mythical creatures such as faeries, sprites, and ghouls to cross over.
With the birth of early Christianity, many of the original pagan festivals became assimilated into the Christian religious observances that fell around the same time. For example, Christmas and the birth of Jesus, was originally the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Eosturmonath, a pagan festival of spring, became Easter and the resurrection of Christ.
All Hallows Eve has been celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and other Celtic countries for centuries. When the Celts immigrated to North America, they took a lot of their customs and traditions with them, birthing the more modern celebration of Halloween. It then developed into the enormously popular celebration it has become, spreading throughout the USA, Canada, and many other western countries, including the UK and Europe.
Spain is a deeply religious country and the commemorations have historically centred around the observance of the holy feast days, All Saints (1st Nov) and All Souls (2nd Nov). However, in more recent years, imported international practices have been merged with traditional Spanish culture, and woven seamlessly into the festivities, making the celebration recognisable, yet intrinsically Spanish.
When is Halloween celebrated in Spain?
Nothing typifies Spain more than feast days and fiestas, and Halloween is no different. Not content with the one night of partying, here in Spain it is celebrated over three days. October 31st- the customary date for Halloween - is known as the Day of the Witches; November 1st which is All Saints Day; November 2nd - All Souls - is named Day of the Dead.
October 31st - Day of the Witches (Dia de las Brujas).
Whilst North America and the United Kingdom focus on 31st October, Halloween, as the main day for parties, it wasn’t typically celebrated in Spain until recent years, when the influx of ex-pats settled here bringing with them their more commercialised version of the religious holiday All Saints.
There are localised customs and traditions throughout the different regions of Spain. In Galicia in the North-West, it is the Night of the Pumpkins (Noite los Calacus). Like the UK, pumpkins are carved and decorated. Possibly because Galicia has a deep Celtic heritage, similar to the British Isles.
In other parts of northern Spain, the night 31st October is for La Castañada celebrations, where families gather to welcome in the Dia de Todoas los Santos, and churches ring bells throughout the night.
Most of Spain now sees it much like the rest of the western world, as a day to party, and a day for the children to dress up and enjoy candies. In big cities like Malaga, Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid, you will find parades, parties, dressing up, and revelry. And of course, all along the Costa del Sol the autonomous communities and municipalities have joined in the fun, and most towns and villages will have some sort of fiesta.
November 1st - All Saints Day (Dia de Todos los Santos).
November 1st is All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, Hallowmas, Solemnity of All Saints, and Feast of All Saints – which is exactly what it is, a day to worship all the saints. There has been a feast celebrating the Christian martyrs since the 4th century. It is thought to have moved to 1st November in the 9th century, when the early church in England was trying to eradicate the older pagan rituals held around this time of year (Samhain), this later translated throughout the whole Catholic church.
In the Christian religions, sanctified or canonised saints have their own day of commemoration; towns and villages have a patron saint, which is often a local holiday. However, Nov 1st is the day to honour all the saints, known or unknown. Spain’s culture has been heavily influenced by Catholicism, which is still Spain’s predominant religion. The Catholic church teaches that anyone who is in heaven is a saint, whether they are known or not, this includes all our loved ones who have passed on.
Making All-Saints the day to remember and pay respects to family members who have gone before. On this national holiday it is tradition for people to join with their families and pay visits to the burial places of the departed. It is taken very seriously, with elaborate flower arrangements, cards, candles, and gifts left at the graveside. Mass is said at cemeteries and churches, with hundreds of attendees. The tradition is still observed by most Spanish people, and it is said to be the day when the most flowers are sold.
Historically, the All-Saints festival also had a theatrical side. A common sight in the Middle Ages was ‘Dance of the Dead’ or ‘Danse Macabre’. Enacted inside churches, at village pageants, at court masques, it featured Death and an entourage of souls in torment and was said to implore its viewers to react emotionally, to remind people of the fragility of their lives. Another piece of performance art that is still closely linked to the festival is ‘Don Juan Tenorio’, José Zorrilla’s play which was first published in 1844. As the dead have a leading role in the plot, performances have become a traditional part of All Saints.
November 2nd - Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).
Despite its name, All-Souls is generally a time for joy, rather than mourning and sadness. Also called Day of the Faithful Deceased (Día de Los Fieles Difuntos). The origins of the day lie in Aztec rituals, which pre-date the Catholic church. On this day the lives of the deceased were celebrated, and it was believed that the dead returned to revel with the living.
The church endeavouring to convert the “heathen” Aztecs to Catholicism, amalgamated the rituals into the religious worship around this time of year. Making All-Souls the day to remember All the faithful departed, (and not just those deemed to be worthy of heaven). This is still the case in some countries, here in Spain it is not an official holiday and is no longer considered by most as a separate celebration, instead it has merged with the day before.
How is Halloween celebrated in Spain?
You’ll find bars, restaurants, and shopping centres decked out in all manner of spookiness. Typical decorations on Halloween are representations of witches, spiders, cobwebs, skeletons, bats, ghosts and of course the pumpkin.
The carving of pumpkins dates to an old Irish myth about a character named ‘Stingy Jack’. Due to his scamming for financial gain, on his death he was barred from both heaven and hell, destined to roam the earth for eternity.
Originally, the Irish would carve scary faces into turnips and potatoes, making ‘Jack-o’-lanterns’, to keep the ghost of Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits away from their homes. When the Irish migrated to America they discovered pumpkins, the ritual was modified, and the tradition grew and grew. England had a similar tradition using large beets.
With its heavy Celtic influence and known for its folklore, it is no wonder that the Galicians celebrate Night of the Pumpkins (Noite los Calacus) on 31st October, when they carve animations into the vegetable.
Dressing up on Halloween.
The custom of dressing up in costumes on All Hallows Eve, is thought to go back to pagan times when the festival was known as Samhain. It was believed that the veil between our world and the Otherworld is thinner on this night, enabling the souls of the dead to cross over and walk amongst us. Any soul that felt they had been wronged, would have the chance to seek revenge. People would don costumes and masks to avoid being recognised.
Fancy-dress parties and trick-or-treating are now widespread. Costumes in the USA and UK can be anything, your favourite superhero, cartoon character, celebrity entertainer, anything you like, for some it is even a chance to be a bit risqué. Here in Spain, the costumes still tend to be in the spooky genre, and you will see lots of people dressed up on and around the holiday.
‘Trick-or-treating’ as we now call it, has been done on the eve of All Saints Day, in a variety of guises, in different countries and cultures, as far back as the 15th century. At that time in Christian Europe, the poor would go ‘souling’, visiting wealthier farms and estates begging for food or ‘soul-cakes’ in exchange for saying prayers for the dead.
Another practice common on this night, was known as mumming or guising. People would go house-to-house, dressed up in disguise, singing or performing in exchange for food. It was considered good luck to donate food, and that not doing so would bring misfortune. The custom of causing mischief or pranking, if not ‘well-met’ is dated to 19th century England.
More common today is children going house-to-house in costume, collecting sweets; it gained huge popularity in the USA in the last century and eventually became the norm throughout Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and here in Spain.
Halloween Food in Spain.
No holiday is complete without its traditional food, and here in Spain there is plenty to choose from.
Aside from roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes, the following are some of the most popular sweet treats -
Huesos de santo, (Bones of the holy) or Saint’s Bones. These are finger sized tubes of marzipan; traditionally filled with a sweet egg yolk mixture, nowadays you’ll also find them full of chocolate, cream, jam, anything sweet; baked and covered in a syrup which has a bone-like beige colour, giving them their name. Families will take these treats when visiting their loved ones’ graves over the holiday period.
Buñuelos de viento (wind fritters). A popular treat on All Saints Day, these are small donuts with a sugar and cinnamon topping, filled with custard, cream or chocolate. Dating back to at least the 16th century, legend has it that when you eat a buñuelo, a soul is released from purgatory.
Panellets, also known in Southern Spain as Empiñonados. A traditional Catalan pastry made of sugar, almonds, potatoes, and pine nuts. They date from the 18th century (or maybe even before), when they were shared and eaten after religious celebrations.
Dulce de membrillo, also known as quince paste or cheese. This is a sweet thick jelly made by combining the pulp of the fruit with sugar and water. Quince has a high quantity of natural pectin, thickening it much more than a traditional jam. It often comes in blocks that you can slice.
Pestiños (honey glazed fritters), are a popular holiday treat in Andalusia and other parts of Southern Spain. It is a piece of dough, deep fried in olive oil and glazed with honey or sugar. Thought to have been brought to Spain by the Moors and related to the Moroccan shebbakiyya, a fried dough, bathed in honey, flavoured with saffron or aniseed.
Leche frita bites are a sweet, cinnamon flavoured dessert made of milk-pudding. They are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Made by cooking milk, flour and sugar into a firm dough, which is then fried and served with a glaze.
Barriguitas de Vieja, ‘old bellies’, or Spanish pumpkin fritters. Hailing from Valencia where they are known as Buñuelos de Calabaza, these are a relatively new addition to Andalusian cuisine because they were previously deemed to be a dessert for those in the lower classes. However, you can’t do Halloween, or autumn without some pumpkin and they have surged in popularity in recent times. Made by deep-frying a pumpkin, flour and spices combination. They are a delicious, sweet treat.
Restaurants, bars, and parties.
You will find spooky theme-nights at restaurants and bars all over Spain, particularly in the bigger cities, tourist-area’s, and where there are a lot of expats. Many towns and municipalities now have entertainment. Shows with dancing and music, parades through the streets, fancy dress competitions, and much more.
Halloween celebrations on the Costa del Sol.
Malaga’s biggest Halloween attraction was always the Zombie walk: Participants would dress up as all the creatures we associate with Halloween - witches, vampires, ghouls, goblins, ghosts, plus zombies, and parade through the streets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to happen in quite the same way as it once did. Instead, if you head to Larios Street, you will find everyone hanging out there, dressed up, eating, drinking, and generally having fun. For more action, head on down to Malaga Port (Puerto de Málaga), where you’ll find a large Halloween fair.
Marbella’s Represa Park (Parque de la Represa) presents ‘the Haunted Park’ with an assortment of events to keep you entertained. There are haunted houses, and a cemetery. A panic mansion, a ghost bus, the Halloween train, and zombie hunting. Outside of the park, centred around the Plaza de los Naranjos area, there are set to be ghost tours, a photo call, parade, and a flashmob.
If you want to get your pups involved, then head to Puerto Banus at 6.30 pm on October 31st, where you will find the Poms Moms Marbella, Halloween Parade. Fancy dress for everyone, including the doggies, with prizes for the best costumes.
This year in Estepona, the council is holding a party at the Recinto Ferial of Estepona (the fairground), on 31st October, from 7 pm to midnight. There will be a band (playing hits from the 80’s and 90’s), a dance show, a macabre ride called the ‘Passage of Terror’, plus a contest for the best costume.
And what is happening in other parts of Spain …..
Celebrated in Cadiz on the 31st of October is the Fiesta de Tosantos. Also known as Fiesta de los Mercados, the event comprises of concerts and performances throughout the city. Though, what you really want to be looking out for is the market stalls. The vendors use their fruits, vegetables, and other produce, to create displays satirising recent political or social scandals. There are prizes for the best display and the competition is fierce.
A 50-minute drive from the centre of Alicante is the town of Cocentaina, here you will find one of the oldest fairs held in Spain, the ‘Feria de Todos Los Santos’. Granted royal privilege by King Pedro IV of Aragon in 1346 AD, held during the week of All Saints Day (1st Nov), now attracting up to 400,000 visitors. People dress up, and areas of the fair are dedicated to agricultural machinery, trucks, an Arab souk, animal/horse fairs, books and art, and children’s attractions.
Galicia and northern Spain.
In much of northern Spain the night of 31st October is for La Castañada, families spend time together, eating traditional foods, such as roasted chestnuts and sweet potato, and greeting the morning of All Saints Day together. It is thought that these sweet treats originated because historically the church bells would be rung all night to welcome in the Dia de Todos los Santos, and the bellringers would fill their pockets with these sugary concoctions to sustain them through the long night.
In Galicia, with its strong Celtic history, Samain is still celebrated. There are bonfires, mystical chants, scary stories, spell casting and the legend of Santa Compaña – which is the Procession of the Dead. This is a procession of souls that wander through the villages, beginning at midnight, wearing white hooded cloaks, led by a cursed local person who carries a cross or a cauldron of holy water. It is said, only some can see the souls.
To protect themselves from the spirits, locals drink flaming queimadas. A punch like drink made from the Galician spirit aguardiente, flavoured with unground coffee beans, sugar, and lemon rind or orange peels then set alight. During the preparation there is a ritual chanting of a spell, known as the esconxuro. It is said that reciting the spell, wards off bad spirits.
San Sebastian horror and fantasy film festival.
Running since 1990. This year from 27th of October through to the 3rd of November, in Donostia-San Sebastián, is the 34th horror and fantasy film festival. It is a huge fiesta of horror and fantasy, packed with music, performances, exhibitions, and street shows.
Dolan Property – experts in Real Estate – Based in Marbella.
If you are interested in looking at properties here on the Costa del Sol, Spain, to enable you to spend more time soaking up the sun, enjoying its rich cultural calendar, and taking part in all the festivities; whether it is Easter, Halloween or Christmas, there is always something happening; then contact us at Dolan Property.
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