I stood in fascination, almost gleeful, as I watched a young girl running for her life from a witch. She tripped and I expected all the teachers standing around to rush to her before the inevitable waterworks began, but instead the witch began mock beating the girl with her broom. This was my introduction to Samain.
Samain is the Galician celebration that modern day Halloween stems from. It is a Celtic holiday that celebrates the upcoming winter solstice and was considered the one day that spirits would pass through our world. I had been absent for school for two days and so, I had no idea that there would be any sort of celebration on Halloween Day. I had brought a witch hat and some candy to give out to the students to round off our week of Halloween lessons. I figured no one at the school would give a damn about Halloween festivities, but I immediately knew this had been a mistake when I walked into the staff room and saw two witches drinking coffee and the Joker from Batman sitting at our staff computer.
The witches were two of our secretaries/groundskeepers (I get interesting English interpretations of what their actual job is) and the Joker was one of the infantil teachers. They looked spooky and my witch hat with the neon pink hair seemed very sad, all of a sudden. In Korea and even in America, we usually keep Halloween slightly cute for the young kids. Elementary school teachers may even dress up as fairies, dolls, or very tame witches. Samain is not a fan of the cuteness. One must be scary, grotesque, and bloody. I know another teacher who showed up to school in a pirate costume and was treated with disdain. “We do not understand your holidays”, she was told. Galician people are witches, zombies, skeletons, or dead people for Samain. It doesn’t seem to stray far from that. My pink witch hat was pushing it..
The witches beckoned me upstairs and I was shocked to see the walls covered in what looked like bubbling pus and stone. I pushed aside some thick black construction paper and entered what used to be a bright hallway to my classroom but was now dark and lit by about fifty jack o’lanterns and red candles along the wall. The air smelled like sweet wax and as I walked through the spider webs alone, my mouth was wide open in wonder. I felt like a little kid again. It was beautiful, creepy, and obviously time consuming for the teachers to put it together. There was a table in the corner, made up to look like a bed, and I had a feeling something scary would be happening there. As I walked back out through the hanging black construction paper, all I could say to my colleugues was, “wow”.
The kids arrived and we took them into another room with jack o’ lanterns and candles. A skeleton sat in the middle of the room with a cauldron full of unwrapped gummies. Fire hazards and unwrapped candy. Never would fly in Americuh. The witches threatened the kids in Galician, so I only understood a few words, but I understood when they said, “Vamos a mi casa!!”
I was a part of this production since I had a witch hat, but I obviously was scaring no one. Little children clutched at me, saying “Hannah! Hannah! Help me!” as we entered the main dark hallway under hanging ghosts. I pulled them towards the dark bed, but I couldn’t get any of them to touch it. Just looking at it was sending them into hysterics. The blankets began to stir and a collective scream went up into the air. Wearing a ill-fitting red wig, The Joker threw the blankets off and came running at everyone. I screamed along with them as The Joker stumbling across the floor and then sliding across it in a possessed way was pretty disturbing. Kids were almost knocking over candles and each other in an effort to get away from him and a few of them pushed their friends towards him (that would be the troublemaker boys). Any child that ran outside to the light for safety was tormented by one of the witches. It was all in good fun though, as most of the kids were having a blast and only a few were completely traumatized.
After the kids had made some Samain art, (I was given some pumpkins and a cat face) we went outside into the blistering cold where Galician music was blasting on the loudspeakers. Galician music has a heavy Celtic influence and involves bagpipes so I slightly felt as if I was in Ireland, not Spain, as I watched the kids do games, like stilt races, tug of war, and capture the flag. Some of the teachers prepared a bonfire, as the games went on, and roasted a massive amount of chestnuts. We happily ate them out of newspaper rolled into a cone shape. My co-teacher told me I needed to practice cracking them open, as I was not fast enough. I sat with my students on a bench, under a grey cold sky, eating chestnuts and drinking juice boxes and I was very happy to be here in Galicia. I didn’t choose this region and I wanted to go to the south to feed my sunshine addiction, but this part of Spain is full of extremely friendly people, rich tradition, and delicious food. I suppose I could say, I am beginning to love it here.