Your Weekly Dose of Spanish by Spaniology: Semana 15

Published in Dungarvan Leader Page 15 on Tuesday 2nd of November 2021


The day has come when we honour our deceased, celebrate the harvest and the arrival of the winter, and the veil that separates the realm of the living and the dead is lifted. So let us look at how we celebrate this day in Spain.

Hallowe'en is known as Víspera de Todos los Santos (All Hallows Eve, just as its English counterpart), coming right before the Día de Todos los Santos (All Hallows Day) on the 1st of November. The latter is the day chosen to honour our departed; wreaths and flowers are brought to cemeteries and special masses are held to commemorate those who are no longer amongst us. Special sweets are consumed around these days, such as panellets or the aptly named huesos de santo (saint's bones). Noche de las Ánimas (Souls' Night) is another name used in certain regions.

Besides the Christian traditions, numerous pagan or secular ones survive throughout the country, mostly in smaller towns. In northern regions like Galicia and Asturias, where Celtic traditions are stronger, it was customary to make jack-o-lanterns out of turnips, just as it was done in Ireland before the American pumpkin replaced it. This is also a night when one risks walking into a spectral procession if venturing outside into the woods. This ghostly cortege, receiving different names like Santa Compaña (Holy Company) or Güestia (Host) depending on the region, is formed by wandering tormented souls who could not make their way into the realm of the dead and may herald a forthcoming death, giving it a clear parallelism with the Irish Banshee or the Germanic Wild Hunt. Carrying torches made of human bones, they recite the following verse as they march to warn of their approach: Andad de día, que la noche es mía (Walk during the day, for the night belongs to me).

In Soria they take a literary approach and they pay homage to the spooky story El Monte de las Ánimas (The Souls' Mountain) by acclaimed Romanticist poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. This Gothic horror story, set in the Castilian town of Soria, relates a local legend buried in mystery and involving the spirits of slain Knights Templar haunting a nearby castle. The characters from the story come to life for one night during the celebrations held in this town.

In Sant Feliu Saserra, Catalonia, they remember mediæval witch hunts with a terrifying performance around the town's streets.

The character of end of the summer and harvest celebration is also reflected in the castañadas, gatherings where neighbours sit around the fire eating roasted chestnuts and enjoying some local tipple.

These are some of the traditions observed around Spain, where, as in the rest of Europe, we celebrate the triple condition of this festivity: change of season, overlap of the realms of the dead and the living, and honouring of the deceased. One last word of advice, though: if you happen upon the Güestia at night, draw a circle on the ground and step inside to ward them off. Have a merry and terrorising Hallowe'en.

* Here is your weekly dose of Spanish: Dentro de poco sonará la oración en los Templarios, y las ánimas de los difuntos comenzarán a tañer su campana en la capilla del monte. [The prayer will soon sound out at the Templars, and the souls of the deceased will start to toll the bell of the mountain chapel (from El Monte de las Ánimas)]

Sergio Fernández Redondo

Sergio hails from Asturias in northern Spain and has recently relocated to Dungarvan, where he is a Spanish teacher and PR specialist at Spaniology. Having an eclectic background in engineering, translation and linguistics, he is also a keen aficionado of history and languages.


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