In planning a Spanish-American wedding in America, I’m having to juggle between two cultures, two languages – and a whole set of weird traditions and superstitions. Upon finally activating my online registry, my soon-to-be mother-in-law was horrified to see cutlery knives.
“Is that not a bad sign in the United States?” she asked, genuinely concerned that I’d be dooming our marriage before we’d even decided on entrees. Who knew that getting knives for a gift spells D-I-V-O-R-C-I-O in Spanish culture?
Moving to a new country often means tiptoeing when it comes to avoiding cultural blunders. Many of Spain’s odd superstitious are deep-rooted in tradition and the Catholic religion, and while some are laughable, as someone who grew up borderline obsessive compulsive, I find myself playing into their Spanish equivalents quite often.
There is a love of the game in Spain, and not just fútbol – online betting games, slot machines in bars and the national lottery system are all thriving in the midst of the financial crisis, and it’s not uncommon to see people lining up for big draws.
Spain’s biggest draw happens just before Christmas, known as El Gordo, or The Big One. People tune into the drawing on December 22nd to hear the children of Colegio San Ildefonso sing out the numbers, and many of the ticket holders religiously ask for the same numbers or only buy from places where other large prizes have been bought.
Apparently ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’ is a concept lost on the Spaniards.
Witches, La Santa Compaña and La Güestia
My suegra is from Asturias, a province in the north of Spain with a strong belief in superstitions and the supernatural (hence the horror of practically severing my marital bond before it started!).
Fernando told us about La Santa Compaña before we left Baamonde’s pilgrim lodge one night. On dark, rainy nights in Galicia, these witches often offer candles to help light the way, converting you into a soul doomed to wander the Galician countryside for all eternity (there are worse things – it’s beautiful!).
Similarly, La Güestia line up and travel from hamlet to hamlet in the sparsely populated countryside of Asturias, snatching up the souls of the dying.
And then there are the witches, dwarves and forest animals who play evil tricks on people, popular in local lore in the foggy, dream-like parts of northern Spain. In fact, many superstitions come from trying to avoid them!
Per Catholic tradition, saints are revered. When I called a church about a premarital course, the priest asked our professions so that he might pray for us. Each saint is the patron of something – an affliction, an animal, a profession – and saint days are celebrated.
Let’s just say I usually pray to the Virgin of Loretto when I hop on a RyanAir flight.
Bad Sweep Job
Not only should you avoid bringing a used broom into a new house (oops), but sweeping over someone’s feet will mean that that person will never marry. Good thing I’m the one who sweeps in the house most often!
A Place to Leave Your Hat
Just like in Italy, leaving your hat on top of a bed signifies that something bad will happen. Most often, this is related to losing one’s memory.
Perhaps my favorite superstition is the belief that people, when toasting, must look one another in the eye. I can’t wait for the creepiness at my wedding when I get to stare down my family and friends!
What Not to Give a Baby
Babies should never be gifted anything in the color yellow, as it’s believed to bring the evil eye. There goes my nursery neutrality plan…
My mother always taught me that the salt and pepper must never be divorced (really, am I just cursing myself for fun now?!), making sure I passed them together to another diner’s hand. In Spain, the salt must never be passed or spilled, as this brings bad luck.
Tuesday the 13th
The film Friday the 13th probably didn’t gain much traction in Spain, as if the thirteenth day of the month falls on a Friday, a Spaniard isn’t bothered by it. Instead, Tuesday the 13th brings the mala suerte, as the word for Tuesday, martes, is related to the God of war.
As for the knives? Apparently taping a penny to the blade wards off divorce lawyers. Still, I’d rather not risk it!
Do you know any Spanish superstitions?