Spooks on Plaza de Callao. Not half as scary but you can’t expect too much in these hard times!

Text & pics by Camila Wanderley

I’m a freelance journalist who took off to Madrid for a look-see and enjoy what was on offer while there. I was hoping to write a story about Halloween in this once-bustling capital – Europe’s third largest, topped only by London and Berlin in terms of population – thinking that, being a Catholic country, the festivity was going to be more on All Saints Day (Día de Todos los Santos) and less Halloweeny. However, I was still hoping to find a spooky spirit in the streets of the city, with people dressed up for the occasion and Halloween decorations hanging over shops. Also, considering how fiesta-loving the Spaniards are, All Saints Day cum Halloween should be quite festive.

On the other hand, I had to get real. These are unusual times, the Era of the Covid. And I should be prepared to join a terribly watered-down holiday. A locked-down Halloween, what with the many restrictions on the mobility of the people. You see, as I began to write this piece on October 31st, I saw that the day before, Spain had registered 25.595 new Covid-cases, the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. On top of that, the ICUs will predictably be swamped and sure to collapse unless the municipal government of Mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida does something drastic to arrest the second wave of the pandemic that has been threatening to spiral wildly for weeks now.

Many costume stores simply self-locked.

Worse than my foreboding, the “ghostly” shops were ahead of the local government when it came to lockdowns. Even before the shops could recover from the devastating first confinement in March, they now have to struggle against the restrictions necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus this second wave of the pandemic. As a result, many shops in Madrid, which are allowed to open at 30% capacity, have closed down, their windows hung with rent signs. Disheartened shop-owners specializing in Halloween costumes simply gave up. And I thought Halloween would surely go kaput.

The few shops that were open were teeming with Halloween shoppers.

And yet, as I roamed the streets of the city in the afternoon of October 31st, the few that were open were teeming with people, albeit social-distanced, doing last-minute shopping for Halloween gear! With the current curfew that allows shops to remain open only until 10 PM and the rule that prohibits groupings of over six people, I was pleasantly surprised to see Halloween still getting this much action.

Last-minute shopping: Can’t go to the watered-down party un-costumed!

And what were people’s plans? Valentina and Roxana, two young women who were spending their first Halloween in Madrid, told me they would deck out for the occasion and go to a bar until closing time which, unlike the shops, are allowed to stay open until midnight. Sonia and Irene, mother and daughter, were going trick-or-treating. Like them, others on the block would be duly costumed for the hunt for candies on their neighbors’ doors. They would be careful to stay outdoors and at the same time avoid large crowds.

Rollerblading on Puerta del Sol

After sundown I walked around the favorite haunts in the capital – Plaza de Callao was filled with people, including vampires and zombies. While some went the whole nine yards with their costumes, others had the time of their lives just donning masks and cat-ear tiaras.

Bars in Malasaña were full of spooky revelers

At Puerta del Sol they roller-bladed to the tune of live music. Bars all over Malasaña, the mecca for hipster urbanites, were as full as the pandemic restrictions would allow — sometimes just barely keeping to the rules.

And how about Spain’s more traditional All Saints Day? Outwardly, it has all but fused with Halloween. But the annual rites for the dead could still actually hold their own against the onslaught of America’s influence. During normal times, the Cementerio de la Almudena, Spain’s biggest cemetery, with over 5 million dead – almost twice the living population of the city of Madrid – receives massive throngs when All Saints Day comes around, bringing flowers and candles to honor the departed. But not this year.

Maria’s flower stand on Tirso Molina: business is sluggish.

Maria, who works at a flower stand in the square by Tirso de Molina, told me that this year business is decidedly sluggish because of Corona. She pointed out that most of the people who come to buy flowers for the cemetery live outside of Madrid. However, with border restrictions, they cannot enter the capital. So, therefore, brisk trade was not on the cards. And not only for her either. Flower shops around the city were bound to find themselves in the same boat.

It is sad to see traditions being put on hold this year. And businesses that are bracing up for another lockdown even before they could bounce back from the devastation of the first wave of the pandemic. But amid this sad situation, is it nice to see that people can still find a way to have fun. I was prepared to see them discouraged — even beaten — but what I found instead were lively streets celebrating Halloween. And people may have been prevented from buying tons of flowers for All Saints Day. But they kept up the tradition as best they could

It goes without saying that I too had a nice holiday despite my initial misgivings.