Five weird and wonderful Spanish traditions on All Saints’ Day

As is usually the case with Spanish festivals and traditions, the celebrations can be slightly quirky.

Five weird and wonderful Spanish traditions on All Saints' Day
Sardines dressed up as Cadiz footballers. Photo: Panarria/Wikimedia

El Día de Todos los Santos, a public holiday across Spain that falls on November 1st every year, is for most people a day of remembrance. 

Most Spaniards visit their loved ones at the local cemetery, leaving flowers at their tombstones and then spend the day with their families.

There are however a handful of towns and villages (mostly in Spain’s once deeply religious but still very traditional Andalusia region) where locals have held onto a quirkier interpretation of how to honour the dead.  

Fancy dress for animals and food in Cádiz

The southern coastal city of Cádiz treats All Saints’ Day (Tosantos as they call it) as a bit of a carnival.

Gaditanos put clothes on rabbits, pigs, fish and hens in the city’s Virgen del Rosario market.

Photo: Panarria/Wikimedia

As if that weren’t whacky enough, storekeepers also make doppelganger dolls of Spanish politicians, and celebrities, and depict social issues in Spain, using fruit, veg and nuts.

Photo: Panarria/Wikimedia

Porridge in keyholes near Jaén

In the small Andalusian village of Begíjar, young people celebrate El Día de Todos los Santos by taking a casserole of gachas (a type of local porridge) out for a stroll and then proceed to fill up every keyhole they can find with a dollop of the oatmeal.

Why, you ask? Tradition has it that the porridge stops evil spirits from seeping in through Begíjar’s keyholes.

Photo: Mjblanco/Wikimedia

Trick or treating-like traditions in Seville

In the Sevillian town of El Ronquillo, kids hit the streets and carry out a more low-key (but equally full-on) version of Halloween’s trick-or-treat tradition.

Legend has it that long ago El Ronquillo’s altar boys would chime the church bells incessantly during the month of November to remember the dead, and that they’d accept food offerings from the villagers to keep up the hard work.

With time, all of El Ronquillo’s children began knocking on doors, and in true Andalusian fashion would sing to the villagers in return for whatever food was available.

The lyrics of the most common song (La Cachetía) were a tad threatening however, along the lines of “If you don’t give me some nuts, I’ll ruin your wall” and “If you don’t hand over those chestnuts, I’ll stay here all day”.

The tradition lives on to this day (as does the song), but it’s all healthy snacks such as nuts, fruit and veg for these kids. This after all is some no-nonsense trick or treating, no sugar rushes or scary costumes.

Trip to the Jaén countryside to get away from all the drama

Here’s yet another Andalusian village that’s held on to a centuries-old All Saints’ tradition, but this one has a particularly laidback, pagan twist to it.

Back when religious devoutness was the law in medieval Spain, a group of subversive peasants from the village of Baños de La Encina near Jaén decided enough was enough with the constant mourning, praying and bell-chiming (the latter used to be 24 hours a day for the whole month of November).

The men would skive off for a few days to the countryside to chill, leaving their wives to do all the praying for them.

Baños de La Encina’s residents still take part in this two-to-three-day long trip to ‘el campo’, where they (women as well now, fortunately) sing, eat, play games and of course drink.

All in all, a relaxing break from life and all that ‘dead talk’.

Photo: Soyignatius/Flickr

Galicia has its own Halloween and it’s older than the US’s

All Saints Day is in fact a completely different celebration to Halloween, which is held one day beforehand, but the region of Galicia has its own traditions during this time of year. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain’s Galicia the true birthplace of Halloween?

In the sea-swept northwestern region, with its Celtic roots and traditions, the ancient festival of O Samaín – was a precursor of America’s Halloween.

And there’s no reason to believe the rumours aren’t true, as the Gaelic ‘Samhain’ festival did merge with Christians’ All Saints’ tradition to form the foundations of modern-day, sugar-crusted Halloween.

In Galician villages such as Cedeira, O Vicedo and Narón, people have for centuries dressed up as spirits and magical beings, organised death marches, carved scary faces in pumpkins and gone trick or treating. Sound familiar?



Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy

When a child loses a milk tooth in Spain, it’s not a magical fairy that comes to collect it in the night, but a little mouse instead.

Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy

In countries such as the UK, the US and Australia when kids’ baby teeth fall out, it’s customary for them to put it under their pillow, hoping that a magical fairy will come in the night to take it away. 

The story goes that the fairy wants the tooth for her magic castle, all made out of teeth, and will pay children a reward by leaving a coin or two under the pillow instead. 

But in Spain, there is no fairy or a magic castle, instead, it’s a little mouse called Ratoncito Pérez who comes to collect it instead. Similarly, the mouse will leave a reward for the tooth such as a few coins, some sweets or small gifts. 

Sometimes you will spot toy shops in Spain that have built a tiny house for the Mouse Pérez outside their store. 

How did the story of Ratoncito Pérez come about?

The legend of the Mouse Pérez started out as a character in a story written by Luis Coloma. 

Coloma was commissioned to write the story by Queen María Cristina, for King Alfonso XIII (1886-1941), whom she affectionately called Buby, when he was eight years old and lost one of his milk teeth.

It is said that through the tale, the author wanted to teach the young king about the importance of brotherhood whether a person is rich or poor, good or bad so that he would become a great leader. 

The story goes that Ratoncito Pérez lived in a box of biscuits in a house in Madrid and every night would scour the city for teeth, visiting the homes of children who had recently lost them and leaving a coin under their pillow in exchange. 

READ ALSO: Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears? 

One night, the mouse meets King Buby when he loses a tooth and together they go on an adventure to meet Pérez’s family and help the poor people around the city. 

The original manuscript of the story was dedicated to D. Alfonso XIII and is dated 1894, but it was not until 1902 when the king was 16 that the story was first published in a book of short stories. 

Another edition was published in 1911, dedicated to the Prince of Asturias D. Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg, King Alfonso XIII’s son. 

Although Ratoncito Pérez is the most well-known character who collects teeth in Spain, there are regional differences too.

In Catalonia there’s also Angelet or the little angel who comes to collect teeth, in the Basque Country there’s Maritxu Teilatukoa, a little ladybird who lives on the roof and comes down to fetch children’s teeth from under their pillows. And in Cantabria, there’s a tooth squirrel – L`Esquilu de los dientis

The concept of a little mouse who comes for kids’ teeth is in fact not so strange because in many other countries, it’s also a mouse and not a fairy that arrives in the middle of the night too. 

In France, parts of Belgium and Switzerland and some countries in Central and South America there’s also a tooth mouse.