Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I Love Galicia in November

While there’s probably no one here in Galicia who is excited for the changing of the seasons and all of the miserable rain and bone-chilling cold they bring, there’s something really special about November here in northwest Spain that made me really look forward to the month this school year. It may not replace that warm fuzzy feeling I get from spending Thanksgiving with the family (and Mom’s cooking!), but Galicia in November is still a festive month that makes fall a just plain nice time to be around in this part of the country.

All Saints’ Day

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Huesitos de Santos
November begins with the annual Tódolos Santos holiday. The Catholic Church has got a saint for every day of the year, but November 1st is the day to honor all of the saints. This feast day is also when Spaniards traditionally get together with their families to visit the graves of their loved ones and leave flowers. Because of this, cemeteries and mausoleums are busy places on the Día dos Defuntos or “Day of the Dead.” I don’t have any deceased relatives buried in Spain, so naturally my favorite thing about this holiday are seasonal pastries called huesos de Santos (“Saints’ bones”), little marzipan tubes with flavored “marrow” filling, such as egg yolk, chocolate, almond, or strawberry.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

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At my school’s Magosto celebrations
During fall, castañas (chestnuts) fall to the ground and make traipsing beneath chestnut trees a poky and dangerous endeavor, for sharp, spiky husks protect clusters of brown, glossy chestnuts. In November, Galicians go around soutos (chestnut groves) picking up these nuts to roast directly over a fire or to boil to use in a stew or to make various desserts.

Historically, the chestnut was the main source of carbohydrates in the region until corn and potatoes from the Americas were introduced centuries ago. However, Galicians still consume chestnuts today in huge quantities, and the Magosto festival held in mid-November celebrates this important nut. Wander through the streets of the old town in Santiago and you’re sure to find someone manning a miniature train engine with chestnuts roasting away. A couple euros can buy you a newspaper-roll of warm castañas!

The “Little Summer”

By mid-October, the winter rains are already in full swing, but Galicians look forward to the feast day of San Martiño (St. Martin), as November 11th often heralds an Indian summer, or a “period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere” (thanks, Wikipedia). In the Galician language, they like to rhyme a lot, so they call it “o veranciño de San Martiño”—“St. Martin’s little summer.” Last year, we were lucky enough to have one of these and it didn’t rain for FIVE WEEKS straight. The weather forecast doesn’t look nearly as promising for this November; however, we can’t complain as we had a high pressure system of Saharan dust hovering over the region for several weeks in October.

Harvest (a colleita) and pig slaughter (a mata do porco)

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(Source: FerPer)
Finally, as in most places in the northern hemisphere with temperate climates, November is harvest time for all the thousands of tiny family farms that dot the Galician landscape. The most commonly-harvested crop is yellow corn—millo in Galician—which farmers leave out to dry or hang up beneath their roofs before storing in their granite hórreo corncribs to keep the critters away. While folks grow corn predominately to use as livestock feed, it’s nothing out of the ordinary to grind up the corn to make flour, and with it pan de millo or cornbread.

If it’s cold enough outside, the annual pig slaughter also happens in November. Spaniards love their pork, and they eat nearly every part of the animal, from loin to ribs to ears, trotters, and face. I haven’t attended a mata do porco here yet, although I have a (vegetarian!) friend who did go to one last year…it sounded pretty brutal. The Galician language has a little rhyme about the pig slaughter that I like: “A todo porquiño lle chega o seu San Martiño,” which literally means “Every piggie’s got their own St. Martin’s Day coming,” but more loosely means “You’ll get what’s coming to you.” Watch out!

What’s your favorite month of the year? Do you love the crisp weather of fall and the fun festivals it brings? Share your voice below in the comments!
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