So Halloween is as popular as ever in Madrid and some people are just plain unnerved by kids with vampire getups prowling around the neighborhood begging for candy. What could rattle you more?
Why do the Spanish get uneasy about Halloween? Well, a whole slew of reasons come into play here, but in short, to some this festivity represents to an invasion of old Spanish traditions by a crackpot commercialized Satan-driven pagan American invention polluting the great customs of the country, and those of Europe for that matter. This is not some kind of conjecture on my part. I have actually heard and even read these things. There is the fear All Saints’ Day will fade into oblivion due to all those six-year-olds dressed up as witches and ghosts pandering for a few sweets.
Yeah, right. All Saints’ Day has been slipping from most people’s minds for years, and it ain’t the Americans’ fault. If anything, it’s the Spanish’s fault. It’s a shame, but it was on its way out with or without the English teachers’ help. For many, just about the only thing sacred about the day is that you can sleep in…unless of course you are a father, in such case, the rule does not apply…ever. Ironically, celebrating Halloween in this country makes more sense because you are guaranteed a day off on November 1st.
That doesn’t mean Halloween hasn’t contributed to its obscurity. Nowadays that’s nearly all young people talk ab0ut, which explains why the religious members rush out in force to save their day. Ironically, with any luck the holiday, it may just be thanks to Halloween that All Saints’ Day enjoys renewed popularity. That would be especially good news for the florists.
Others are wary because it is foreign and not really a part of the culture, and I can certainly sympathize with that. But a little research proves that there are many traditions here in Spain which are considered uniquely Spanish but whose origins actually go back to another country. The ubiquitous nativity scene at Christmas is an importation from Italy, for example. So, Halloween is not a joint-venture created by the Coca-Cola Company and MacDonald’s Corporation, as some practically believe here. It is a complex web of traditions and cultural twists and turns that has ended up with a product as we now it today. Its origins of Halloween predate the Roman occupation of Great Britain. The custom went over from Ireland and Scotland to the U.S. where the young children learned they had a sweet goldmine on their hands and embraced the new idea with immense joy – and its popularity increased. Then it started spreading elsewhere. My parents confirm that as early as the 1930s they were knocking at doors and performing a little lightweight extortion. But it was in the 1950s and dawn of the TV era that the practice really took off.
Commercial interests do abound, no doubt about that, but that can be said of nearly many special days, except for maybe Labor Day. On top of that, in a sense, this is just an Old World custom being bounced back from the New World. If you listen and read enough about spooky traditions you learn that in some places in the north like Asturias and Galicia, ghosts and witches and goblins and such things were commonplace in folklore. The use of the pumpkin to ward of the feared Santa Campaña in Galicia was practiced and probably still is in some of the more remote nooks of the regions.
So there you have it. Thanks to us English teachers and new technologies, we are returning to Europe a little bit of its past. An emerging ancient tradition thanks or because of globalization and grammar!