Is Spain’s Galicia the true birthplace of Halloween?

Halloween may be known primarily as an American celebration, but could the Spanish region of Galicia in fact be the place where the spooky festivity was born?

Is Spain's Galicia the true birthplace of Halloween?
Could Galicia be the birthplace of Halloween. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

The northwestern region is famous for its rich Gaelic folklore and ghost legends, and Halloween, known there as O Samaín is a big deal, in fact, some argue that it was invented there.

The Galicians celebrated O Samaín for centuries, an ancient autumn festival, which was a precursor to America’s Halloween.

O Samaín derives from the Gaelic word Samhain, meaning ‘end of summer’ and commemorates the change of season and the arrival of winter. It also celebrates the end of the harvest and the last day of the year, according to the Celtic calendar, which is October 31st.

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

In Galicia, this is also known as the ‘Noite dos Calacús ’ or the ‘night of the pumpkins’.

It is said that when the light changes from summer to winter, for a single night, the doors of the afterlife remain open and are used by the souls of the deceased to visit the world of the living, similar to the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.  

During this night it was customary for the druids – high-ranking officials and religious leaders to go from house to house asking for food to honour the souls of the spirits who visited during that night – perhaps a tradition which gave way to modern-day trick or treating.  

READ ALSO: This is how Spain celebrates Halloween (a festival invented in Galicia)

But during this night it wasn’t only the good spirits of family members that passed over, but evil ones too. To protect themselves the locals would carve pumpkins with scary faces and light a candle inside. Some would also dress up in animal skins and masks, to scare the spirits away.

In Galician villages, people celebrated this way for centuries but became it less common with the rise of Christianity. In recent times, however, the tradition of O Samaín has been revived and in villages such as Cedeira, O Vicedo and Narón it is now celebrated in a big way. Today it may involve pumpkin carving, costume parties, bonfires, and rituals.

The legend of Santa Compaña

This procession of spirits gave rise to the legend of Santa Compaña, known throughout Galicia, Asturias and northern Portugal. Closely associated with the Camino de Santiago, it is said that some pilgrims would see the appearance of a row of ghostly hooded men who arrived to warn about impending death, like the ghosts of Christmas future. 


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

Member comments

  1. Hi, this sounds quite likely because of the Celtic past of Galacia. However, I am informed that it is actually in Ireland that the Halloween custom website is first recorded and from there, when the Irish emigrated to America (because of the Famine in 1846 to ’49), The Americans took it to where it is today.
    But your account of what it means is exactly the same as the Halloween festival in Ireland. Samnach is the Gaels word for autumn and the tradition of dressing up as ghouls and skeletons, fairies etc. was to blend in with the spirits that roamed free on Oct 31so that the people wouldn’t be taken away by the spirits. It can be traced back to Co. Meath in Ireland and was a pagan ceremony. So, yes, a Celtic tradition that started in Ireland

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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.