Halloween | J. AGUIRRE


When did Halloween make the breakthrough in Mallorca? Answer, or an answer, is when retailers cottoned on to a decent earner. Time was when the local supermarkets wouldn’t have had in-your-face displays of witches as you, and especially the younger ones, enter. They now do. A Mallorcan ‘Nit Bruixa’ (Witch Night) is January 16, the eve of Sant Antoni, but the bruixes have learned to haul out their broomsticks and fly two and a half months earlier.

Prior to whenever it was that some crafty witchcraft marketing meant being confronted by an in-store exhibition of an old crone with cackling expression and long drooping nose (which must surely now be contrary to gender stereotyping sensibilities), the island Halloween was a modest affair of eating doughnuts - some say fritters, others ‘bunyols’ - and a certain amount of flower-giving. Allhallowtide’s big day has always been November 1 and not October 31.

There is a view that Halloween is solely an Anglo-Saxon invention, one now being eagerly shared by island retailers. Consequently, an Americanisation of Halloween is all part of an assault on tradition in the same way that Santa Claus and Christmas trees have been imported in an attempt to upstage the Three Kings - tradition imperialism brought to you courtesy of Coca-Cola and Hollywood.

While a long and drooping Majorcan nose may look down on brash marketing to have crossed the Atlantic, there is a closer-to-home dynamic that has assisted in Halloween becoming more acceptable. This is what might one refer to as Celtic revisionism.
Halloween was not an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.

The Celts started it and Christianity eventually got round to borrowing All Hallows’ Eve from the Scots. The first of November was Samhain, the start of the Celtic winter (Samhain - the lord of death - meant summer’s end). The eve of Samhain - Halloween - was an occasion for sacrifice and allowing the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes: a link was forged between death of summer and human death. In Mallorca, summer may officially die on October 31, but fortunately no one has yet suggested that it should be celebrated by having a sacrifice.

The revisionism I refer to is that of the Celts in Spain. During the nineteenth century, the Spaniards generally pooh-poohed the idea that the Celts had anything much to do with them. However, historians and scholars were to come along and reveal a rather different picture. They drew maps to show it. Great swathes of Spain (and pretty much all of Portugal) had, once upon a time, been inhabited by Celts of one form or another. They were therefore cousins of the Celts in Scotland.

Making a case for the Celts in Mallorca is that much more difficult as there isn’t certainty as to where pre-Roman inhabitants were from originally. Nevertheless, a connection with the Celts has long been held, as by Joan Dameto in his ‘General History of the Kingdom of Majorca’ of 1633. This connection is one which sits with a notion of separate development to the Iberian peninsula after Roman power evaporated.

There is scant evidence to suggest that the post-Roman Visigothic Kingdom of Iberia, into which old Celtic tribes may have assimilated, had any influence on or interest in Mallorca.

So, a theory is that the Mallorcans of post-Roman times were descended from the Celts, while there wasn’t to be genuine influence from the peninsula until the Catalans arrived in the thirteenth century.

This Celtic past, whether accurate or not, isn’t one that plays much of a role in current island culture, but there has been increasing popularity of folkloric associations with parts of Iberia that have the most identifiable Celtic roots. Galicia is the most obvious one, and Galicia joined with Scotland and others to form the Celtic League in 1986. It is also the case that Galicia has a Halloween tradition that isn’t like some sort of an import.

So, if one is inclined to look deep enough, there are historical reasons (potentially so anyway) for arguing a stronger link to the Halloween tradition than might be thought. As it is, though, the general take on Halloween is that it is a day of reflection prior to the visits to the cemeteries on All Saints Day, the second day of Allhallowtide, the hallow having come from the Old English ‘halig’ to mean holy.

For Mallorcans who subscribe to the view that Halloween is an Anglo-Saxon thing, then here - linguistically - is some evidence. This said, Old English was also spoken in parts of Scotland.

Separate from all the history, there is the far more contemporary view that Halloween is the end of summer. October 31 marks the end of the official season, and on All Saints Day there is a celebration of its passing which involves going to the cemeteries. The season dies and is followed by the Day of the Dead, except it isn’t, as it is today, All Souls, which is for the dead.