In many societies, it’s the modern preference for celebrating Halloween that has taken over from more local traditions. Coming from Irish lore by way of the US, carved out pumpkins, fancy dress, trick or treating and too many sweets are probably the things that most children associate with this time of year. But once the clearing up from All Hallows’ Eve is done and dusted, the Spanish pack up their families and drive back to their hometowns and villages for one of the most important public holidays in the Spanish Catholic calendar.
All Saints’ Day or Día de Todos Los Santos on 1st November honours all the saints known and unknown. You may be aware that the older generation of Spaniards in particular celebrate their Saint’s Day with as much fervour as their birthday, but All Saints’ Day commemorates the saints, whether living or departed. Spanish families get together and visit their local cemeteries, laying floral tributes on the graves of their loved ones. Flower sellers display their most decorative blooms on the streets outside and in some locations mass is performed at regular intervals throughout the day. But it doesn’t end there! In many towns and cities, at least one theatre will put on a performance of the play Don Juan Tenorio, which was written by José Zorrilla in 1844. This play has a special significance for All Saints’ Day; the final act when Don Juan repents and has to make his choice between heaven and hell is set in a graveyard built upon the site of his former mansion in memorial to his victims. In common with most other religious holidays, there are a number of traditional sweets eaten on All Saints’ Day such as Huesos de Santo (or Saints’ Bones), made of marzipan combined with an egg and sugar syrup, and Buñuelos de Viento, light and airy fried buns coated in cinnamon and sugar. These will be enjoyed by the children of the family, in particular during the afternoon after mass along with roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes and almond cakes. Though an event of national importance, All Saints Day is particularly well observed in certain parts of Spain. In Cádiz, ‘Tosantos’ marks a week of festivities filled with processions, street markets, food stalls and music. Children and adults alike can be seen wearing rabbit and suckling pig costumes, as well as holding on to dolls made of fruit. In keeping with the Gaditanos’ reputation for humour and banter, it is quite a different take on what can be a rather sombre occasion in some parts of Spain, yet sun and an easygoing attitude to life ensure that’s seldom the case in Andalucía.