Halloween. Every knows about Halloween. Celebrated each year on October 31, kids (and adults) dress up as ghosts, ghouls, witches and wizards, to party and have lots of fun. As a kid we often used to go “trick or treating” where we hoped that generous neighbours would give us sweets and not throw cold water on our celebrations! Here in Spain it is celebrated, but not nearly as much, but year after year it seems that there are more disguises and paraphernalia in the shops. Indeed, this year Halloween parades for children are being advertised in many towns across the country, and Torrevieja will be hosting the latest round of Survival Zombie on the most haunted night of the year!
The following day, 1 November is a public holiday in Spain. All Saints’ Day is a big day in the Catholic calendar when friends and family who have passed on will be remembered and honoured. Many people will make their way to their home town and lay flowers on the graves of loved ones. It is also the day when performances of Don Juan Tenorio can be seen. If you love old black and white films in Spanish, I’ve provided a link to one such performance below if you have a couple of hours to spare! Quite why it has become THE play to see on All Saints’ Day is a mystery, but the fact that is performed every year now makes it the longest running play in Spain.
In Latin America they do things differently though. Mexico is famous for its colourful parades full of skeletal figures on 1 November. It really is the Day of the Dead. On a recent trip to New Mexico in the USA, it became apparent how that tradition has spread north over the border. Last year a wonderful cartoon film, The Book of Life, was released and I highly recommend that anyone who loves a good animated movie watches it. You can see it here if you can put up with the subtitles in what I presume is Chinese!
For me though, my personal experience of the Day of the Dead comes from Cochabamba, Bolivia. My wife and I were staying with a family there during an intensive Spanish course, and we were invited into some homes to see how they honour their loved ones. In each house a table is laid out in memory of friends and family who have died. On the table are all sorts of food stuffs and other objects which the deceased enjoyed in life. If the death occurred in the last year, the table is massive. Children go around town visiting different houses singing prayers and receiving gifts in return, a little like carol singing. In one house it was very sad as two brothers, the youngest only 16 or 17, had died a few months before. It felt slightly intrusive entering into the house but we were greeted very well and made to feel welcome. The commemorations continue on 2 November, All Souls’ Day. We followed the crowds to the cemetery the next day where incredible things were happening. The contents of the tables were moved to the tombs of the deceased with singing and music to celebrate the lives lived and say goodbye to departing souls.
One of the most extraordinary things we saw was at the table laid to celebrate the life of an old lady. She was often seen in a lace apron sporting an elegant bonnet. Her favourite food was roast chicken, and so the two ideas were combined to provide the centrepiece of the table. Once seen, it cannot be unseen!