Halloween is beginning to settle more strongly in Spain. The candies, the “trick or treat” thing and the costumes are becoming an annual ritual that is part of our country, and it has also become a ritual, whether we like it or not, the confrontation among the defenders of Halloween and those of All Saints’ Day. Today we are going to talk about that confrontation, about Halloween in Spain and about the importance that these festivities have had in political confrontations throughout History.
The importance of the celebrations
When one starts to talk about the ideological consequences of a festivity, people say that one thing is the celebration itself and other very different is politics. We must say that that is not true. Celebrations have always had an undoubted political and ideological involvement. We must bear in mind that these are moments of socialisation which political groups or certain institutions can take advantage of in order to identify themselves with the society and to achieve a greater degree of legitimacy. It may seem dumb, but in recent Political History studies celebrations are being taken into consideration as a source of power (a power not solely based in political and institutional areas, but also in the relation between those exercising power and the society).
As it happens, I’m reading at the moment a book from Jorge Luengo called Una sociedad conyugal: Las élites de Valladolid en el espejo de Magdeburgo en el siglo XIX (A conjugal society: The elites from Valladolid in the mirror of Magdeburg in the XIX century). In this book there is a section dedicated to the various uses that celebrations had and to the way in which the political situation affected them. For example, in Valladolid they served to legitimize the local elites and these elites endorsed the power of an Isabelline monarchy defied by Carlism, while in Magdeburg we see a certain interference from state bureaucrats in the local celebrations (p. 146-152). Whatever they say, talking about festivities is talking about power struggles.
The celebration of Halloween
Before we go into further detail, let’s talk about what Halloween is. To sum it up, it is an important celebration in the Anglo-Saxon world brought about by the syncretism of the festivities of the pagan Celtic people and All Saints’ Day celebrated by the Catholics. We know it mainly because of the cultural impact of the United States, but the celebration got there thanks to the Irish immigrants that went to the States during the Great Famine.
Halloween in Spain
Usually we identify Halloween with the United States and we see its celebration in Spain as a kind of cultural colonization by the Yankees. It is obvious that the celebrations that have been taking place lately are related to the cultural influence that the United States have in our country, but we must be aware of the fact that Spain is no stranger to the celebration of the Night of the Dead. Before the United States was the great power it is today, even before the first settlers arrived to North America, we had in Spain traditions such as the Santa Compaña or the meigas (witches) in Galicia. In other areas of Spain, we also have traditions that remind us of Halloween, such as the food collection that the children did in Asturias on the Night of the Dead (they didn’t say “trick or treat”, but it was the same) or the pumpkin lanterns (they are like Jack O’ Lanterns) that were used to summon the protecting spirits in some populations of Castilla. We mustn’t forget that Halloween is a celebration that has its roots in the Celtic culture which exerted and exerts an undoubted influence in our country.
All Saints’ Day against Halloween
The confrontation between All Saints’ Day and Halloween it is the constant fight between the Catholicism (more specifically, a traditional interpretation of Catholicism) against pagan culture. This isn’t new, it comes from long ago. As it happens, the fact that we celebrate All Saints’ Day on the 1st of November it has to do with that fight. This festivity was moved from the 13th of May to the day in which we celebrate it today in order to supplant the pagan celebrations that preceded it. It is the fight of a religious group to keep exerting influence over a festivity that legitimized them in a certain aspect that they took very seriously (death and the cult of the dead, take into account recent events).
Certainly, there is an undoubted Anglo-Saxon influence in our current Halloween celebrations, but this isn’t an alien festivity in our land and it doesn’t talk about traditions that have nothing to do with our country. If Halloween takes over All Saints’ Day, the pagans are just recovering what belonged to them, one celebration isn’t more natural or proper than the other. That one imposes on the other has something to do, particularly, with ideological and power matters.
Surely, there are a lot of nuances to do to everything that I’ve just pose, I’ve just given a brief comment in order to raise a debate. What do you think? Do you really think that there is a connection between festivities and politics? Does the Church use celebrations to legitimize itself? Do you think there is a certain aspect of this post that would be interesting to treat in more detail? Participate with your comments and make this site a better place. We also leave you some interesting links about this topic. Greetings!
Translated from the original article written by Pedro Antonio Sánchez Prieto: http://historiya.es/halloween