All Saints Day, 1 November, is known in Spain as Dia de Todos los Santos. At one time it was always celebrated in May, but tradition has it that it was moved to November to offset some of the paganism associated with Hallowe’en. In Spain it’s one of the 14 national public holidays, so banks and shops will be closed. When Todos Santos falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Spaniards follow the tradition of ‘Haciendo Puerte,’ literally ‘taking a bridge.’ In other words, they’ll take the Monday or Friday off too, to award themselves a 4 day weekend. In 2014, Todos Santos falls on a Saturday, so there are likely to be some rather disappointed locals in a village near you!
Todos Santos is a day to remember the saints (santos) who were martyrs to their faith. That in itself is a vital element of Catholicism,but it’s also a day when Spanish people everywhere remember all their dead. In some Spanish speaking countries, particularly Mexico, it’s also or alternatively referred to as ‘Dia de Los Muertos,’ literally ‘Day of the Dead.’ On Todos Santos, every Spaniard will make sure that the day is free of unnecessary chores so that it can be celebrated to the full. There is a special Mass, which is often celebrated in the local cemetery. And there will be a silent procession to the hallowed ground. Incidentally, you might have noticed that there are considerably more cemeteries in Spain than in England. Spain is a Catholic country, and Catholics don’t tend to go in for cremation.
It’s customary to take ‘offrendas,’ or offerings of flowers, to the cemetery, making Todos Santos the busiest day of the year for Spanish florists. However, you won’t see the price of flowers rocketing as you do in England around Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday. That really isn’t the Spanish way.
Todos Santos involves a spending a lot of time at the cemetery, so traffic will be unusually heavy in the vicinity of your local burial place. In Algorfa, if there are more than 4 cars at a junction or queuing on a roundabout, we say we have a traffic jam, and by local standards, the roundabout by the local cemetery is gridlocked on Todos Santos. As a mark of respect, you should drive slowly near the cemeteries, and don’t toot on the horn. It’s also a nice gesture to allow priority to cars turning into cemeteries. If you’re on foot in the vicinity of the local cemetery, try not to disturb those who are visiting departed loved ones. This might seem pointless to more secular sensibilities, but remember you’re a guest in a country whose residents tend to revere their dead in any case, but especially on Todos Santos.
Because you’re in Spain, you probably expect food to play a major part in the day, and it certainly does. ‘La Castanada’ is traditional, particularly in Catalonia. This means roasting and feasting on chestnuts (las castanadas) and sweet potatoes (los boniatos). The shops and markets are already full of them. After that there are panelletes, small almond cakes. The food eaten on Todos Santos is inspired by traditional funeral feasts in ancient Spain, and it can also be enjoyed on the evening before Todos Santos. Huesos de Santo, (saint’s bones) are small marzipan cakes which are also enjoyed as part of La Castanada.
If you possibly can, arrange to see a performance of Don Juan Tenorio. This play about the legendary Spanish lover is always performed on Todos Santos. The final scene of the play is set in a cemetery, where Don Juan begs his deceased fiancé to forgive him.
As always, the Spanish throw themselves wholeheartedly into their fiestas. As well as a time of reflection and prayer, Todos Santos is also a day to celebrate the lives of the departed. Wherever you may be in Spain, enjoy Todos Santos with your Spanish neighbours.