Coming from the U.S., Halloween is and always has been my absolute favorite holiday. The countdown to October and all of its glorious costume parties in New York City were always the hot topic of the year amongst my crew and I. Some of us would spend all year planning out multiple costumes for multiple parties.
So when I arrived in Cataluña, I was excited to find out exactly how the locals would celebrate the holiday.
I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to a Halloween party at the language school where I was about to work back in 2015. Everyone dressed up in incredible costumes! Since it was a last-minute invitation, I had little time to put a costume together, and I had also just gotten rid of years of accumulated costume wear after leaving New York, so I wasn’t really in the mood to buy anything. Instead, I opted for a Batgirl makeup mask.
I was so excited to be celebrating! This meant they must celebrate over here, too!
Well, much to my dismay, on Halloween day there were very few people who actually dressed up.
I had been lucky to be invited to the Halloween party I attended because it was an international language school, but I think of Halloween as more than a holiday for the children, though year after year it continues to gain a bit more popularity. Some schools celebrate, others don’t, and it’s mostly thought of as something very American.
It is much more common for everyone to celebrate Carnaval – it’s comparable to Halloween in the U.S.
This is the holiday event that precedes the religious Lenten season, though they hardly associate it with its religious roots. Children and adults alike celebrate and there are various costume parties and events for friends and families to enjoy.
However, on November 1st there is another special event that is celebrated here called “La Castanyada” (translation: “the chestnut”).
Around this time of year, it is common to find food carts that are roasting chestnuts on the streets. I absolutely adore the scent of the roasted chestnuts! I have even had some students give me bags full of them because they grow in the forested areas.
On Halloween, the day before “Tots Sants”, or “All Saints” day, it is tradition to eat chestnuts (“les castanyes”) with the family. Tots Sants itself on November 1st is a somber day of commemoration of the dearly beloved who already left this earth, much like el Día de los Muertos in Mexico.
Yet here, it’s not a happy, celebratory occasion, but a day of remembrance and honoring of the souls of relatives who have passed on.
Aside from sharing the “castanyes” there are also special sweets called “panellets” which are enjoyed with family and friends for the Castanyada.
They are made of almond flour and are often accompanied by sweet wine. They sell them at almost any bakery or supermarket around this time of year.
Family Values and Traditions
Family traditions, such as La Castanyada, remind me of how important it is to honor our family ties and take part in family traditions.
It is often our very first experience of community when we have a family who likes to celebrate and remember our traditions. I definitely appreciate the emphasis on family values in Spain, such as meeting for lunch with the family every Sunday. There are many traditions throughout the year that are celebrated, and there is almost always some kind of ritual involved that brings people together.
For this reason, I also find it very important to keep celebrating my holidays and family traditions just as I would back home.
Perhaps I won’t find a Halloween party at every bar or restaurant, but there are communities that will celebrate (often being the expat communities). Besides, I am always ready to dress in costume for just about any occasion. It also keeps me feeling connected to my roots, despite how far away I might be from “home.”
What are some holidays and traditions that you love to celebrate?
by: Marjorie Vera