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.
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.
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.