Five weird and wonderful Spanish traditions on All Saints’ Day

As is usually the case with Spanish festivals and traditions, this selection is truly bonkers.

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 to 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.

But rather than succumbing to Halloween’s scary dress trends, 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, 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 oatmeal.

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

Photo: Mjblanco/Wikimedia

Aggressive child begging in Seville

Okay, we’ve embellished the title slightly. In the Sevillian town of El Ronquillo, kids essentially 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 from 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 that US’s

This sea-swept northwestern region of Spain, with its Celtic roots and traditions, claims its ancient festivity – 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, kids and adults 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?


How to celebrate Halloween in Spain (a festival invented in Galicia)

The Halloween holiday is celebrated across Spain not least because it involves a national bank holiday tagged onto a weekend which is known as a puente and ensures that everyone has three days off.

How to celebrate Halloween in Spain (a festival invented in Galicia)
Photo: AFP

But of course this is Spain which means that things are done their own way, so don’t expect carved pumpkins and trick or treating to done in the same way as it is in America.

Three day celebration

 All Saints Day falls on a Sunday this year which means technically there is no reason to give anyone a day off to get back to their village and visit their departed loved-ones. But this is Spain and everyone loves a puente so a bank holiday has been added on Monday, just so people can have a three day weekend.

However, because of covid-19 restrictions, much of Spain has closed regional borders or imposed perimeter lockdowns to stop the movement of people in a bid to curb the spread of infection.

Photo: AFP


Dressing up

Children are expected to dress up in spooky costumes for their last day of school before the Halloween long weekend, oh and the teachers too, and things generally focus on the creepy. Think witches, zombies and devils rather than superheroes, TV stars and literary favourites.

In normal years, some towns stage community trick or treating events inviting children in dress-up to visit a circuit of shops where they will be given candy and treats culminating in a costume party in a local square, but this won't  be happening this year.

And there won't be the usual Halloween themed events in pubs, clubs and restaurants. Remember groups are now limited to six people maximum and there's a nationwide curfew in place.

However there's no reason you won't see an organised zombie march taking place in a plaza near you – as long as they are socially distanced!

Photo: AFP




Galicia: The birthplace of Halloween

In Galicia, the northwestern region famous for its rich Gaelic folklore and ghost legends, Halloween is a seriously big deal. In fact, some argue that it was invented here.

Known as Samaín the ancient autumn festival celebrated in Galicia was a precursor of America's Halloween.

In Galician villages such as Cedeira, O Vicedo and Narón, kids and adults have for centuries dressed up as spirits and magical beings, organised death marches, carved scary faces in pumpkins and gone trick or treating, all activities that will be curtailed this year.

It starts on October 31st with the Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) involving as pumpkin carving, costume parties, bonfires, rituals. 

Look out for the queimada – a  hot punch made from orujo mixed with herbs, sugar, lemon peel, apple and coffee beans. It is brewed in a special clay pot and stirred with a ladle while incantations banishing evil are chanted over it as it burns with a blue flame.

Photo: AFP

Catalonia, chestnuts and witches

Across Catalonia, towns usually stage the traditional Castanyada – the traditions of which date back hundreds of years and involve a funereal feast of vegetables, nuts, chestnuts and sweet bread rolls. 

But all these events are cancelled this year. 

However, there is no reason why you can't recreate the festivities with your family or housemates at home. Here's the recipe for the small bread rolls known as panallets.

READ ALSO:  Panellets: How to make the traditional Catalan Halloween treat

Photo: Nadine/Flickr

Halloween is also known in Spain as Dia de las Brujas and you’ll see creepy decorations of witches propped up all over the place.

The small town of Sant Feliu Sasserra near Bages in Catalonia really celebrates the witch cult honouring 23 women sentenced to death for witchcraft during the Inquisition.

All Saints Day

A man tends the grave of a loved on in Almudena cemetery in Madrid. Photo: Lynn Spreadbury/The Local

November 1st is the Día de Todos los Santos when families gather in cemeteries to tend to their loved ones’ graves taking fresh flowers and special pastries.

These include the peculiarly named buñuelos de viento – nun’s farts – which are bite-sized donuts filled wih cream; huesos de santo – bones of the holy – which are finger sized tubes of marzipan; and panellets, nutty pasties.

This year however, authorities are urging people to maintain social distancing and avoid meeting groups of people larger than six. 

Drones will be patrolling the larger cemeteries to make sure people are keeping to the rules.

This year, authorities  have urged citizens to act responsibly given the fact that Spain is now in the grip of the second wave of coronavirus.

“This isn't the year for going to cemeteries nor having Halloween parties, nor going anywhere,” insisted Enrique Lopez, Madrid's regional justice minister. 


It’s not all about ghouls and ghosties.

Suggested outfits from the Bishopric of Cadiz and Ceuta. Photo: Shower of Roses

The Spanish Catholic Church has been fighting back against the popularity of the “satanic festival” of Halloween by urging good Christian children to forgo zombie, ghost and devil outfits and instead dress up as “saints, virgins and apostles”.

Recents years have seen the rise of “Holywins” parties thrown by churches or catholic schools with children dressing up their favourite saint, a monk or nun, or even one of the apostles. But they won't be happening this year either.

“With Holywins, which stands for Holiness Wins, one can avoid the pagan festival and reclaim the meaning of the Catholic feast day of All Saints,” reads a statement from the Diocese of Cartagena.

Stay at home

The good news is that there are no restrictions on staying at home and scaring yourself silly with a horror film on Halloween night.

READ MORE: 12 Spanish horror films to terrify you at Halloween