I’ve been living in Ireland for the last 4 years, but before that I lived all my life in Catalonia, where we celebrate “la Castanyada” on the 1st of November and we only see Halloween as something super American and without a story at all. Today I’ve discovered that this is not true, Halloween has their own story, sadly no one ever goes to the TV!

Halloween is based on the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, the end of the harvest season and the end of summer. People believed that October 31 became All Hallows Eve, when the Púca, a mischievous fairy, could decide whether the crops will be bountiful or fairy-blasted. In Ireland they celebrate Halloween setting bonfires on hilltops to ward off Púca before the start of the winter season. And there’s a story for the famous trick-or-treat too! It’s based on the poor children in Britain and Ireland that went door-to-door on All Hallows Eve and received food in exchange for the promise of praying for the giver’s dead relatives on All Saints Day, this practice was known as “going-a-souling.” And during the Samhain festival, some people wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by evil spirits, that’s why they wore costumes!

There are a few songs which are sang at the bonfire, my son has learned an Irish Gaelic version of Frère Jacques that’s about Halloween. The song mentions Barmbrack, which is an Irish yeast bread that’s served for the holiday. It’s often cooked with a toy ring in it and the person who gets the ring is supposed to be the one who will get married within the year.

Oíche Shamhna                                                       Halloween Song
(Irish Gaelic)                                                                   (English)
Oíche Shamhna, Oíche Shamhna,                 Halloween, Halloween,
Báirín, breac, báirín breac,                            Barmbrack, barmbrack,
Úlla is cnónna, úlla is cnónna,                   Apples and nuts, apples and nuts
Is maith liom iad, is maith liom iad.                   I like them, I like them.

After reading a lot of pages searching for the folklore around Halloween, I can say that I will see this festivity with a different perspective from now on!
So, yesterday we went to the Halloween event at Brigitte’s Garden, but today it’s turn to share with my little one the Catalan traditions.
The legend says that the tradition of eating chestnuts the night before All Saints comes from when the bellmen had to work all night in the churches to warn the residents of the town of the hour of prayer for the dead people. Due to the exhaustion caused by the activity of ringing the bells all night, the bellmen ate chestnuts and sweet wine to regain strength. There’s another version of the story that says the Castanyada that derives from funeral meals, when vegetables, nuts and small bread rolls known as panallets were served. The meal was a symbolic communion with the souls of the dead and while the chestnuts were being roasted, the Rosary prayer was intoned in memory of members of the family who had passed away. This is how the figure of the ‘castanyeres’ emerged. These were street vendors of roasted chestnuts, usually women of a certain age, modestly dressed in peasant clothes and with a headscarf. While the figure of the ‘castanyeres’ no longer exists as such, you can find around Catalonia lots of students selling hot roasted chestnuts (wrapped in newspaper) to gain money for their school trips.

La Castanyera                                                 The Chestnut Seller
“Quan ve el temps de menjar castanyes      “When the time comes to eat chestnuts
la castanyera, la castanyera                   the chestnut seller, the chestnut seller,
ven castanyes de la muntanya,        she sells some chestnuts from the mountain
a la plaça de la ciutat,                                          in the city square;
la camisa li va petita,                                         her skirt is too small,
la faldilla li fa campana,                                       her skirt is too big,
les sabates li fan cloc-cloc                                her shoes sounds like cloc-cloc
i en ballar sempre gira així”.                        and when she dances she turns like this”.

But we have a traditional dessert too called “Panellets”, really easy to make but super-caloric!! Here is the recipe if you want to try…

  • 500g of almond flour
  • 375g of sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 lemon zest

You simply have to mix all the ingredients and work them until you have a smooth paste. Then you’ll have to let it rest for at least 12 hours (yes, that’s the worst part!!). I put it wrapped with a cotton cloth and to the fridge.

The next day you’ll only have to make small spheres and put them in the oven! At a really high temperature (200/220) and for only 6/7 minutes! It has to be rare on the inside and crunchy outside! Here are the ones we did! Yep, we tried to add some chocolate on them… and they weren’t so bad!!
Do you have any tradition at your house on Halloween?