Samaín

Samaín

This time of the year is the end of the harvest season; the days start getting shorter, the weather gets colder… In short, the end of octubre (October)-beginning of noviembre (November) marks the transition into otoño (autumn) and invierno (winter). It’s time for Samaín and other celebrations.

 We don’t celebrate Halloween as such in Spain, although in recent years it’s common to see both kids and adults dressing up on October 31 and Halloween parties being advertised. This is not a traditional celebration, though; but I guess any excuse is good to party! There are, however, some traditional celebrations:

 

 

Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) & Día de Difuntos (Day of the Dead)- 1 & 2 de noviembre

These two days are all about remembering those who passed away. Most of the activity takes place on November 1, which is a national festivo (public holiday). On this day, people visit their loved ones in cemeteries and take flowers to them. Christianity has been honouring the dead on these dates from the 9th century, but there are older traditions…

Samaín (from the Irish Samhain)

It’s an old Celtic celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the limits between this world and the next one got blurred, meaning that spirits could cross over to this world more easily. In Galicia there was a tradition of carving calabazas (pumpkins) and leaving them on the roads in order to scare passers by. People would also leave fires on all night, as well as food, for the spirits. Since 1990 there have been attempts to recover this old tradition.

Samaín pumpkin carving workshop

Pumpkin carving workshop.

Magosto (chestnut party)

Linked to the end of the harvest season, magosto is celebrated mostly in northern Spain, as well as Portugal. The main elements of a magosto are castañas (chestnuts) and fire to roast them. People would gather around a bonfire, roast castañas (other foods too, but chestnuts are essential), sing and dance. It was also the perfect opportunity to taste the new vino (wine). There is not fixed date to hold a magosto. It could be any time between mid-October and mid-November. Usually, the last day to celebrate a magosto is November 11, festivity of St. Martin. Magostos apart, it’s common to see chestnut sellers on the streets once autumn starts. So, when you are out for a walk you can just buy a cone full of warm, freshly-roasted chestnuts. Delicious and a great way to warm your hands on cold days!

 

Samaín - roasted chestnuts

You can buy roasted chestnuts on the street.

Today’s Spanish words

Would you like to know about other Spanish celebrations? Check these posts:

El Carnaval, about the Carnival celebrations that usually take place around the end of February or beginning of March.

Feliz Navidad, about the celebration of Christmas in Spain.

Semana Santa, about the Easter celebrations.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

O Camiño de Santiago

O Camiño de Santiago

O Camiño de Santiago |

Imagine you are on the Camino Francés… or on the Camino del Norte, or the Primitivo or even on the Vía de la Plata. It doesn’t really matter.

 

The thing is, you are walking across Spain. Maybe you’ve prepared before your trip and learned a bit of Spanish. Or you’ve been picking up a few words along the way. And then you enter Galicia and you get the impression that people sound different.

 

What’s worse: things start getting confusing. Now you see Fisterra… later you see Finisterre… Are they different places? Is it the same place?

 

 The good news is that you are not going crazy. Let me explain

 

Spain has not always been Spain as we know it today. A few centuries ago, there were several smaller kingdoms, ruled by different kings and queens. One of these kingdoms was the Kingdom of Galicia, which included the north of modern day Portugal as well as part of Asturias and León.

 

Latin was the language generally spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, but at some stage it started developing differently in different areas until it became several different languages. Some of them have survived until our days and they are co-official, together with Spanish, in their respective territories.

 

Such is the case of gallego (Galician), or galego in the Galician language. And that’s what you are hearing!

 

So, instead of teaching you Spanish, today I decided to teach you a few Galician words. After all, no matter what Camino you choose, the last 100km will always be in Galicia.

 

But let me give you a bit of background info first

 

  • The first written documents in gallego date back to the 12th century and during the Middle Ages, gallego was the language of poetry in all of Spain.

 

  • Gallego and portugués were initially the same language, but by the 14th century, that language had already split into the two separate languages we have today. This means that gallego and portugués have a lot in common. So, knowing a bit of gallego will help you in Portugal too!

 

  • Towards the end of the Middle Ages, gallego ceased to be used by the higher classes, due to political circumstances. It survived till our days thanks to peasants and fishermen, who kept it alive even if it was only orally.

 

  • In the 18th century, a group of intellectuals started becoming interested in the Galician language. One of them was Padre Sarmiento, whose pilgrimage to Santiago inspired the Variante Espiritual route.

 

  • One of the first and most popular authors to write in galego was Rosalía de Castro, who lived in Padrón, on the Camino Portugués.

 

  • We Galician people like to add the diminutive -iño/-iña to almost any word! It adds proximity, familiarity and even affection. So grazas (thank you) becomes graciñas and ata logo (see you later) becomes ata loguiño!

 

And here are the words… 

Today’s (not Spanish) words

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela |

Maybe you’ve been walking for weeks. Or days.

Maybe you’ve walked 800km to get to Santiago de Compostela. Or 100.

Maybe you’ve done your Camino in one go. Or you’ve done it over a few years, a section at a time.

 

It doesn’t really matter. Arriving in Santiago, entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and finally seeing the catedral is always a very special moment.

There are several rituals and traditions that pilgrims generally follow, such as greeting fellow pilgrims with ¡Buen Camino! or Ultreia; getting your credencial stamped at least once a day; drinking Rioja from the wine fountain outside Estella or leaving a stone at Cruz de Ferro, on the Camino Francés, to name just a few.

So, of course, Santiago and its catedral have their own rituals too. The Cathedral’s webiste lists them: http://catedraldesantiago.es/en/pilgrimage/#rites

 

El Pórtico de la Gloria 

As you access the catedral from Plaza del Obradoiro, the first thing you see is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria, built by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. Well, that’s the way it used to be. The Pórtico de la Gloria was closed for almost 10 years for restoration. It has reopened now and it can be visited, but you can no longer enter the cathedral through here.

So, if you’ve already done a Camino in the past 10 years, you missed it and you need an excuse to come back, this is it! The Pórtico de la Gloria was beautiful before, but it’s just amazing now.

There used to be a couple of rituals attached to the Pórtico de la Gloria, but they were causing damage to this work of art, so it’s not possible to do these anymore. One of them, which you can see in the movie The Way, was to place your hand on the centre pillar, under the statue of St. James.

At the back of this, there’s another little statue known as Santo dos Croques (literally the saint of the bumps). This is not really the image of a saint, but that of Maestro Mateo. According to tradition, you had to bump your head against the head of this “saint” in order to get wisdom and intelligence.

 

La cripta

Once inside the catedral, you should visit the cripta (crypt). There is a one-way system to access it, with stairs going down at one side of the main altar and going up the other way. The cripta is where the sepulchre of St. James is kept. On your way up, you can also embrace the image of the Apostle.

 

El Botafumeiro

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

 El Botafumeiro, I’m sure you already know, is this big censer that gets used during special occasions. It weighs over 50kg (over 100 pounds) and measures around 1.5 metres in height (5ft). It hangs from the main dome of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to swing it.

When can you see it? It has some fixed dates you can check in advance: https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/ufaqs/when-is-the-botafumeiro-used/ You can also request it by contacting the Cathedral (and paying around €400). Groups do this all the time, so you might be lucky and be able to see the Botafumeiro in action outside of those fixed dates.

 

During Holy Years, the Botafumeiro is swung daily during the Pilgrim’s Mass or Misa del Peregrino.

La Puerta Santa

You can only enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) during Año Santo or Holy Year (it can also be referred to as Xacobeo, in Galician), i.e. those years when July 25 falls on a Sunday.

The day before an Año Santo begins,  the Puerta Santa is opened in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop. At the end of the year, this door will be closed again and remain so until the next Año Santo. Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.

Puerta Santa in Santiago, opens during Holy years.

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the main religious celebrations in Spain. Unlike la Navidad (or other holidays, religious or not), it doesn’t have fixed dates. Instead, la Semana Santa is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring (between 22 de marzo (March 22) and 25 de abril (April 25)).

Each Spanish region, or even town, has its own particular Easter customs. But they all have some elements in common:

  • One of the most characteristic features of la Semana Santa is procesiones (processions).

 

  • Cofradías (brotherhoods) are religious groups devoted to Jesus Christ or Mary. Among other things, they carry out charity work throughout the year. During Easter, they take their pasos out in a procesión. 

 

  • Pasos are large floats with religious statues of Jesus or Mary, lavishly decorated with flowers and candles. The members of the cofradía carry these pasos on their shoulders.

Many cofradías date back to the Middle Ages and they have owned and cared for their pasos for centuries.

 

The best known and intense Easter celebration in Spain takes place in Sevilla, starting point for the Vía de la Plata. There are more than 70 cofradías in Sevilla. This schedule of all the processions for 2018 will you give an idea of the extent of it: https://www.semana-santa.org/itinerario-oficial-semana-santa-de-sevilla/

 

On the Camino Francés, we can highlight El Encuentro, in León, the solemn moment when the pasos of Saint John and La Dolorosa meet in Plaza Mayor.

 

So, what happens during Semana Santa? 

 

  • Celebrations begin on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday). There’s a procesión reenacting the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. People carry a palm or olive branch to be blessed.

 

  • Although there are procesiones all week, the most important ones take place on Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday).

Both jueves and viernes santo are festivos (public holidays), so make sure you plan your shopping ahead.

 

  • Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday). The procesiones on this day are less solemn and more festive than those on Thursday and Friday, as people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

 

  • Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday) is the last day of Easter. It is a public holiday in some regions, including Navarra, on the Camino Francés. So keep it in mind if you are in that area.

Semana Santa in Ferrol

 

What else?

But not all is about procesiones. Most Spanish people get at least a few days off work, so many use this opportunity to travel and enjoy their holidays. And, of course, food is part of the enjoyment.

There are several Easter treats that may tempt you; they vary from one region to another, but there is one you will find everywhere during Semana Santa:  torrijas.

Torrijas are similar to French toast. They were traditionally made with leftover stale bread. You slice the bread, soak it in milk and egg and fry it in olive oil. You then sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon.

So, if you are in Spain doing your Camino during Semana Santa, I would advise you to take some time off and enjoy the celebrations. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the culture, the art, the music… all that Easter involves.

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

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¡Buen Camino!

El Carnaval

El Carnaval

One of the many benefits of travelling, in my opinion, is that it teaches you about the world. If you are open to the experience, you can learn a lot about a new place: history, traditions, celebrations, food… a new culture!

There are many different festivals and celebrations in Spain, both national and regional, and even local. Back in December I wrote about la Navidad (Christmas), which takes place between diciembre and enero. Febrero (February) is the month of el Carnaval (Carnival).

Unlike Navidad, el Carnaval has no fixed dates, but it is usually between the middle of febrero and the beginning of marzo (March). The duration can also vary a bit depending on the town, but it finishes on Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday) and starts at least 3-4 days before that.

 

What should you expect?

  • There are many different local traditions, but el Carnaval has some common characteristics: it is a period of fun, partying and excess in general. People dress up and wear masks, there are desfiles (parades) and, as I mentioned, a lot of partying.

So, if you are planning to walk during Carnaval, make sure you stay away from the noisiest areas in town (or that you have a good pair of tapones para los oídos aka earplugs!). Or… you could also take a break and join in the celebrations!

The desfiles will disrupt traffic and even general walking around town, so it might be a good idea to find out in advance if/when there will be one (mostly between Saturday and Tuesday and quite likely one on Ash Wednesday to finish off the celebrations).

 

  • Apart from traffic disruptions, you may also want to keep in mind that there might be some festivos (public holidays). There are no national public holidays during the el Carnaval, so I can’t give you specific dates. But there is likely to be some local festivo here or there. Try to find out and plan (your shopping in particular) accordingly.

 

Food

If there is a celebration, there is comida (food) associated to it. El Carnaval is not an exception. As I mentioned before, Carnaval is a period of excess, and it’s right before the beginning of Lent. This excess is reflected in the food, too.

Traditions change a lot from one region to another, so I’ll tell you about the typical Carnival foods in Galicia. After all, all Caminos lead to Santiago. And Santiago is in Galicia. There are three main typical foods.

 

  • The main example would be cocido (cocido gallego, if you want to be specific; most regions have their own variations of cocido). This is a very substantial stew with a lot of meat (pork, beef, chicken) and vegetables. This is not just a Carnival dish, but rather a winter one, although it’s very common during the Carnaval.

 

The other two typical foods are sweet:

  • Filloas are quite similar to crepes and they are usually eaten with a sweet filling: a bit of sprinkled sugar, honey, whipped cream, chocolate spread…

 

  • Orejas (literally, ears). They are fried pastries, so called because their shape resembles that of an ear.

 

In the pictures below you can see orejas on the left and filloas on the right.

¡Feliz Navidad!

¡Feliz Navidad!

The winter months are typically a quieter period on the Camino de Santiago. There are few pilgrims walking and many albergues are closed. However, some people prefer to walk around this time of the year. For them, and for those who would like to know how we celebrate la Navidad (Christmas) in Spain, I wrote this post. ¡Feliz Navidad!

First of all, you should be aware that there are a few festivos (public holidays). Shops will be closed those days; you should keep it in mind, in case you need to buy something. I’ll list the important dates and explain a bit about them:

 

In December

  • 22 de diciembre – La lotería de Navidad (Christmas lottery) also known as “el gordo” (the fat one!). This is the unofficial start of Christmas celebrations. Almost everyone in Spain plays this lottery and it’s a huge event: TV, radio, people on the street… all you’ll hear about is lotería!

 

  • 24 de diciembre – Nochebuena (Christmas Eve; literally “the good night”). It’s not festivo, although shops will close earlier than usual in the evening. This is because families get together for a big, special dinner. Traditionally, this is the time to be with family, at home, so make sure you plan your dinner ahead: expect everything, including restaurants, to be closed from 7.00pm.

 

  • 25 de diciembre – Navidad (Christmas Day). It’s festivo and everything will be closed. Family will gather again, for lunch on this occasion. Both Nochebuena and Navidad are days spent mostly with family, at home. People don’t go out much, although things are changing a bit. Again, you’ll need to plan ahead what you’re going to eat throughout the day, as it will be hard to find anything open.

 

We don’t have just one typical Christmas dish for these days. What people eat for Nochebuena and Navidad differs a lot from one region to another. But we have sweets in common: it doesn’t matter where you are, you can expect to find turrón (almond nougat), mazapán (marzipan) and polvorón (some sort of crumbly shortbread), the three main Christmas treats.

Turrón

Mazapanes

Polvorones

  • 28 de diciembre – día de los Inocentes. It’s the Spanish version of April Fools’ Day. So watch out for pranks and funny news. Otherwise, a regular day.

 

New Year’s Eve

  • 31 de diciembre – Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve; literally, “the old night”). Similarly to Nochebuena, this is not festivo, but shops will close early again. There’s another big, special dinner. But Nochevieja is more about partying and celebrating. It’s common for people to go out for dinner, with family or friends and then party into the next day.

 

At midnight, you can go to the town main square and eat 12 uvas (grapes), one with each campanada (stroke) of the clock. You can also do this at home, as all TV channels will show a clock striking 12 (traditionally, they show Puerta del Sol in Madrid). If you manage it, you will have good luck in the new year.

 

Another widespread tradition to bring you luck in the new year is to wear red underwear. That’s why you will see a lot of it displayed in shops for a couple of weeks before the New Year.

 

The New Year

  • 1 de enero – día de Año Nuevo (New year). If you went out partying after your uvas, chances are you won’t go to sleep until the morning (9.00am at least). Año Nuevo is usually a very quiet day, because many people will be sleeping most of the day and it’s also festivo, so everything is closed.

 

  • 6 de enero – día de Reyes (Epiphany or the day of the Wise Men). Traditionally, Spanish children get their presents from the three Wise Men. They arrive on January 5, when they parade around Spanish towns. Then, during the night, they leave their presents. So, January 5 is not festivo, but there will be parades in most towns. January 6 is festivo and shops will be closed. A typical treat for this day is roscón, a special cake.

 

You can watch some short clips of the lottery draw, the campanadas and the Wise Men parade in this presentation: https://prezi.com/9yp5onzyacly/feliz-navidad-y-prospero-ano-nuevo/

And that’s it! What do you think?

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

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¡Buen Camino & Feliz Navidad!