Nadie más muerto que el olvidado (one is not dead until forgotten). All Saints Day (Todos Los Santos) in Spain takes place on November 1st. It is a national public holiday and a hectic day of homecomings and high emotions. People from all over the country return to their native villages, towns or cities to lay flowers and remembrances on the graves of deceased relatives as a reminder that they are not forgotten.
Roads around cemeteries have bumper-to-bumper traffic, and additional public transport services are organized in larger towns and cities. The cemeteries are filled with people, so full that some wait until the 2nd of November to visit. Others visit a few days prior to November 1st to clean the graves and have them ready for Todos Los Santos. Weeks before the holiday, local flower shops circulate ads offering special floral arrangements — in fact, it is the time year when the most flowers are sold. And restaurants are full of family reunions.
On Todos Los Santos there is a tradition of eating roasted chestnuts (castañas). The chestnut element of the tradition comes from legend of Maria La Castañada, a chestnut seller, about whom there are many legends. One of the most common is as follows:
Maria was a woman who always sold chestnuts when it began to dawn in the evening, but one day she stumbled because of her long skirt and all of the chestnuts she collected fell on the floor. Unfortunately she couldn’t find any of them again and so she got very angry, but then the goblins of the forest came to assure their help. And in the evening they came with lots of chestnuts and everyone was happy.
And there is a Catalan legend of why roasted chestnuts are eaten on All Saints Day:
… the night before All Hallow’s Day the men rang the church bells to honor the dead. As it was a very long and hard work the men ate chestnuts because they are a great source of energy and helped them not to get cold. Often, family and friends came to support the men and so it ended in a big get-together.
Almond cakes are reminders of the days when home-made cakes and offerings were left with the bodies of the dead. At this time of the year, pastry shops offer huesos de santo (the saint’s bones) which have marzipan, eggs and sugar syrup and buñuelos de viento (puffs of wind) which are doughnuts sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. In Catalonia and Valencia, small almond cakes called pannellets are enjoyed.
A day for both mourning the loss of loved ones and celebrating life.
All photos © La Gringa Ibérica