Halloween may not involve massive quantities of name-brand candy and costumes, but there are plenty of good food and candlelit cemeteries. Many regional celebrations span an entire week, or at least a long weekend. Some of the few places from around Europe have cool traditions of their own at the end of October and early November.
Portugal and Spain:
Northern Spain celebrates with seasonal produce and chestnut “parties”. For Tosantos in Cadiz, Spain, locals dress up the livestock at the market and make effigies of politicians and celebrities out of fruits, vegetables, and nuts on October 31st. A day later, in Extremadura, young people go from door to door singing and begging for fruits in season like walnuts, chestnuts, and pomegranates. In Catalonia, bakers roll marzipan in pine nuts to make panellet cookies, roast chestnuts, and sweet potatoes and enjoy la Castanyada with their families, friends and plenty of Muscatel wine on the last day in October.
Around Portugal, these parties, known as Magusto, are typically outdoors around a bonfire and often coincide with All Saints on November 1, or St. Martin’s Day on November 11th. People sing, drink, roast chestnuts by the fire and play practical jokes
Austria, Germany and Switzerland:
For All Hallow’s Eve, Austrians leave a light on all night, as well some bread and water for the dead.
In Germany, kids carve Rübengeister, root monsters, from beets or turnips to scare away bad spirits and their parents put away knives before bed to keep the departed from harming themselves.
Bakers prepare unusual sweets around Spain and Italy from late October to early November. All around Spain, you can buy Huesos de Santo, cylindrical marzipan cookies filled with candied egg yolk said to resemble the bones of Saints. While Sicilians in Italy make their own bony cookies scented with cloves, delicate Fava-bean-shaped cakes called Fava dei Morti.
In an interesting twist, in Rome and surrounding areas, on November 2nd, young men hide rings in boxes of “dead bean” cakes, propose marriage, and depending on their luck, announce engagements. Further south, in Sicily, children believe that if they’re good and pray for the dead all year, the departed will bring them candy dolls.
Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia:
In this part of Europe, All Saints is a weeklong affair welcoming deceased souls back to the land of the living, starting November 1st. In countries like Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, locals decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers and candles or lamps. It’s the perfect time of year for a moonlit stroll around historic cemeteries—even the abandoned tombs of the long dead are cleaned up and decorated this time of year.
In Poland, All Saints and All Souls, or Zaduszki, is still so widely celebrated that there’s heavy traffic on routes to cemeteries and the holiday has become notorious for on-top-of grave robbing, as thieves steal and resell funerary lamps and wreaths.
Ireland and the UK:
Children stateside are warned about razors in candy from strangers—in Ireland, children and adults alike look for foreign objects in their main course and dessert prepared by family members. Coins are hidden in potatoes served with curly kale and onions in a dish called Colcannon. The potatoes are followed up with, a fruitcake with symbolic souvenirs are baked into it. Biting into a piece of rag could mean your financial future is empty, and a ring may mean you’ll soon be married. Kids still play games of knock-a-dolly, pounding on doors, and running away before anyone can answer.
Happy Halloween and Happy Holidays!
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