Trick or Triste? Beating the Halloween Blues

So far, the most important cultural differences in Barcelona have amounted to better coffee and way more time to relax — pretty favorable differences. In the last couple of days, though, I’ve experienced a marked cultural difference in Spanish Halloween.

Walking home Saturday night, I decided to stop in at the bakery next to my apartment for a churro and apple pastry (all part of a balanced diet). From the window, I noticed a sign advertising new additions: colorful, bite-sized sweets that stood out among the less camera-friendly croissants and churros.

Of course I had to ask what they were. The sweets, called panellets, mark one of the hallmarks of the celebration of Castanyada on All Saints’ Day Nov. 1 — which also explained the mystery of why I have the day off school. Nibbling on these, along with a couple roasted chestnuts (preferably around a bonfire), pretty much makes up the extent of the holiday.

Like Halloween, Castanyada’s loosely tied to an ancient festival of the dead, except you don’t have to sweat the night out in a lousy rubber mask or leotard and mouse ears. You don’t even have to solicit strangers for a mushy piece of chocolate. You just eat. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Over the last few years, though, sources informed me that American influence has crept its way into Catalan Halloween. Most people go out, and some even bother with costumes — mostly gay people, I’m told, who “have to be the center of attention.”

While, at press time, I can’t say for certain whether the trademark “less is more” principle that dictates American costume selection holds up over here on Halloween night, I’d be willing to wager it does.

Truthfully, though, I’ve never been too keen on dressing up, which makes me wish that this alleged Americanization of Halloween had been postponed a decade or so. What better way to celebrate the memory of the deceased than to lug a bagful of sweets down to a bonfire?  Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds a lot more enticing than holding a stranger’s hair while dropping some “Maybe He’s Just Not That Into You” (or your animal ears) wisdom in an airtight I-House bathroom.

But as for this Halloween, it looks like I’ll have no such privilege. My friend says he’ll lend me a mask to wear out for this night, but I’m not sure it’ll hide my disappointment in being dragged from my chestnuts and marzipan on the Mediterranean coast, and celebrating this holiday the way my friends on Wikipedia insist it’s meant to be.

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