Celebrating Samaín in Galicia: back to the origins of Halloween

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Samaín in Galicia
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In Galicia, the night of October 31 is traditionally celebrated with Samaín. This holiday has roots that go back further than Halloween and can be traced back to the ancient Celts.

The word ‘Samaín’ is derived from the Gaelic ‘Samhain’, meaning ‘end of summer’. This day marks the end of harvest time and the beginning of winter for Galicians. On that day the boundary between the living world and that of the dead is the vaguest. That moment is celebrated with various rituals that live on to this day.

Druids, the spiritual leaders of the Celtic peoples, organised ceremonies in the forests and around fires. Typical customs included apple diving and the wearing of animal skins and masks to deceive spirits. Skulls of enemies with candles were also used, as well as hollowed-out tubers with lights to show the dead the way to the living.

Pagan origin

The celebration of October 31 and November 1, now known as Halloween, has ancient pagan origins that were brought to the United States by Irish emigrants in the 19th century, where they were picked up and transformed into the commercial Halloween celebration we know and love today. Spaniards also love it. For example, the tubers were replaced by pumpkins and other customs also underwent significant changes.

Renewed interest in Samaín in Galicia

Recently, interest in Sanmaín has revived in Galicia. Moreover, many people want to avoid the American and very commercial Halloween. The movement started more than 30 years ago by Rafael López Loureiro. He started researching and promoting this traditional Galician celebration. His efforts to restore and promote authentic regional traditions have contributed significantly to the awareness and appreciation of Samaín as a cultural heritage.

Also read: Fiestas, Ferias and Celebrations in Spain during 2023

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Samaín today is, of course, different from the ancient Celtic traditions, but some current customs, such as ‘trick or treating’, do have similarities with the ancient rites. In some rural areas of Galicia, the tradition remains alive, often with a humorous twist and activities that take away the seriousness of death.

Sanmaín festivities

In Galicia, all kinds of festivities take place around Samaín, such as carving and decorating pumpkins and lighting fires to guide the dead. For example, the city of Allariz in the province of Ourense has become a popular destination for celebrating Halloween, with its streets decorated in a terrifying theme. In addition to the spooky atmosphere, there are activities such as the Santa Compaña procession and the Samaín Festival. The event, called ‘Allariz de Medo’, has been running for seven years and takes place from October 27 to November 1. Allariz is just over an hour’s drive from Santiago. This makes it a great option for a different Halloween experience with kids.

Here are some other locations in Galicia where Samaín is celebrated:

  • Briz (Pontevedra): Festivities at the Finca de Briz with a ‘passage of terror’ and other free activities.
  • Ferrol (A Coruña): Various celebrations including the ‘Quilómetro do Terror’ in the Catabois district.
  • Cedeira (A Coruña): Movies, ghostly parades, and more in the tents along Paseo da Mariña.
  • A Coruña: Workshops and activities, mainly aimed at children, are organised throughout the city.
  • Pontevedra: The Noite dos Calacús in the Plaza de la Ferraría and other children’s activities.
  • Ribadavia (Ourense): The Noite Meiga this weekend, with music, terror trails and more.
  • Quiroga (Lugo): The Ruta do Terror – Qui Medo! with concerts and costume dances.
  • Catoira (Pontevedra): The XXIII Procesión de Caveiras on October 31 and a Magosto with roasted chestnuts.

Where does the name Samaín come from?

The name ‘Samaín’ is shrouded in historical mystique. Some believe the word has its origins in ‘samani’, an ancient Celtic word meaning ‘assembly’, while others point to a combination of the Celtic words for ‘summer’ and ‘end’, resulting in the meaning ‘end of the summer’. There are even suggestions linking it to the Latin ‘semen’ meaning ‘seed’, or the French ‘saumon’ for ‘salmon’, an animal that symbolised the cycle of life and death to the Celts.

Also read: Halloween – All Saints Day – All Souls’ Day: Celebrations in Spain

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