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November 1st : 'Dia de Todos los Santos'

By The Equalizer - Wed 19th Oct 2011

The Dia de Todos los Santos, or 'All Saints Day', is not the morbid event it may at first appear to be: to the contrary, it is an uplifting fiesta, celebrated to remember and pay tribute to friends and relatives who have died - especially during the course of the previous year.

It is also closely observed in many other Catholic countries throughout the world - especially in Mexico, where the 'Day of the Dead' Fiesta follows on the 2nd November.

On this day families throughout Spain traditionally build altars in their homes and also visit graveyards to pay their respects to their lost loved ones. They take offerings, or ofrendas, of sugar skulls and pastries, garlands and flowers (Saint's day is almost always the busiest day of the year for florists), and personal gifts such as photos and favourite foods of the departed. It is thought that these will encourage the souls of the dead to visit, and pillows and blankets are even laid out so that they can rest after their long journey. Many people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. But it is a happy atmosphere that prevails, with dancing, feasting and the recounting of affectionate anecdotes.

‘La Castanada’ is also a popular tradition on this day, particularly in Catalonia. This involves roasting chestnuts (las castanadas) and sweet potatoes (los boniatos), which are then followed by panelletes, small almond cakes. The food is inspired by traditional funeral feasts in ancient Spain, and may also be enjoyed on the eve of Todos Santos. Huesos de Santo, (saint’s bones) little marzipan cakes, are also baked and eaten in remembrance of lost loved ones.

Jose Zorrilla's play 'Don Juan de Tonorio' is centred around this historic day, and it is popular for many theatres to perform it on and around the 1st of November.

In modern Spain, it is seen as a day to spent with the family and a day of remembrance of recently deceased family members.

Whilst very few people will work on this day, it is polite to drive quietly through the town and village centres, and around the cemetaries as a mark of respect for families who are observing this tradition.

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