Updated Apr 30 2020
La Castanyada (in Spanish, La Castañada), All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead, are three closely linked traditions. They take place at the same time during the year, in the middle of Autumn, specifically between the 1st and 2nd of November and they are all celebrated to remember the dead. In some cases, they bear certain similarities, although overcoming the obvious distances that exist, with other important celebrations of this kind that are common in other countries and cultures, such as, for example, Halloween, traditional in the USA and in Anglo-Saxon countries, although due to globalisation that has spread throughout the planet, including Catalonia and the rest of Spain, and Mexico’s Day of the Dead, where a unique and colourful tribute to the deceased is remembered and paid.
All about La Castanyada and All Saints Day in Barcelona
La Castanyada is one of those traditions that all of us who were born in Barcelona or in the rest of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands or Aragon have very much internalised. It is the equivalent of Magosto, a celebration which takes place in some parts of the rest of Spain (Asturias, Galicia, Zamora, Salamanca, Cáceres, etc.) which bears important similarities. In terms of All Saints Day, 1st November, it is celebrated in an almost homogeneous way throughout Spain, and it honours all the souls who, after going through purgatory, have found eternal life together with God.
The Gastronomic Tradition of La Castanyada
During La Castañada festival, the main protagonist is the chestnut, although it is true that it shares it with another typical autumn product, the sweet potato. So, on this day, 1st November, chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes are eaten. This unique gastronomic tradition, which coincides with the religious festivity, although of Celtic origin, of All Saints Day, goes back several centuries. So, and in some villages it is still done today, church bells rang for the dead (they rang in honour of all the dead) during All Saints night, from 1st November to 2nd November, and almost until the first light of dawn was seen. In order to cope with the cold during the long night, hot foods were usually eaten, with chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes being the main foods, typical of the autumn period that had started and very affordable economically speaking.
Today, chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes are eaten not only on 1st and 2nd November, but also during much of the autumn and winter. Other gastronomic specialities are also typical, such as the famous Panellets and Candied Fruit, which are usually accompanied by a glass of Muscatel.
This is a tuberous root, like the potato, but contrary to this, a sweet taste. During La Castanyada, it is common to eat roasted sweet potato, which how it is prepared at traditional stands, although it can also be cooked or fried, cutting it in different ways to give it a different texture.
Common in making countless amount of sweets in several countries, it is typical fruit (some of the most used are cherries, dates, pineapples, peaches, pears, apples, oranges and other citrus fruits) which is soaked in syrup and then, at least in most cases, glazed to give them that sweet touch, typical of candied fruit.
Muscatel is a sweet or semi-sweet wine made from the Muscatel grape variety. When it is being produced, and in order to get this sweet taste, it undergoes a partially alcoholic fermentation, where fresh must is added to the already fermented and alcoholic must as soon as it has been pressed.
These sweets have a spongy texture and are traditionally made with sugar, ground raw almond, lemon zest and sometimes egg, with the egg whites also used to glaze the outside, to which a good handful of pine nuts is added to cover it. It is then baked and ready to eat. That said, today, there are many varieties of panallets, including coffee, chocolate, cherries, coconut, orange, etc. They can be bought in bakeries and pastry shops, although they can also be found in supermarkets, although these are industrially produced and not as tasty.
The chestnut is the fruit of the chestnut tree, a tree that grows in a large number of forests in Spain and many other countries. The chestnut season begins with the first days of autumn, when they begin to mature. The most popular chestnut tradition is to eat them roasted and in the street, something that is more than understandable due to the cold weather during most of autumn. However, they can also be eaten raw, boiled or even sweet and, of course, at home.
Chestnut and sweet potato stands in Barcelona 2020
Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to find the traditional chestnut and sweet potato stands in the streets and squares of Barcelona. Even so, a few brave people still keep the tradition alive of grilling on the spot and selling these warm autumn delicacies in these typical small temporary structures. Although they are called chestnut stands, the fact is that the chestnuts share the limelight with the sweet potato, as they are prepared in the same way, roasted on a traditional Spanish grill called a “brasero”. Below, is a map showing the chestnut and sweet potato stands that you will find this year 2020 in the streets of Barcelona.
The vast majority of the stands shown on the map can be found in the streets and squares of Barcelona from early or mid-October to late winter. However, in some specific cases, the chestnut stand is set up a few days before 1st November and dismantled one or two weeks later.
One of the most representative characters of La Castanyada is the typical castanyera, who is traditionally the woman who cooks the chestnuts and with which this festivity is usually represented. However, it is common for both men and women to prepare and sell chestnuts and sweet potatoes at the chestnut stands. This iconic figure is an old woman, who dressed in humble winter clothes and dark colours (mainly brown and black), covers her head with a handkerchief to protect herself from the cold while she heats the fire of the brasero on which she roasts sweet potatoes and chestnuts.
Perhaps it is a lost battle, and that against the force of globalisation, which has brought us a festival, Halloween, which shares the dates (night of 31st October to 1st November) with our Castanyada and can be much more fun, colourful and ultimately attractive, especially for children and young people, it is difficult to compete. In recent years, Halloween has been gaining ground in shops and businesses, set with the usual canons (pumpkins, bats, cobwebs and various terrifying elements) during these dates, in music bars and clubs, which organise themed parties and, to say the least, also in some schools that also join this trend that seems to have arrived to stay.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), also known as Día de los Difuntos or Día de las Almas (Day of the Souls), is celebrated every 2nd of November and it is traditional to think about the recently deceased in a special way, praying for them and bringing flowers to the cemeteries where they are buried. Since it is not a public holiday, many people choose to visit cemeteries on 1st November, All Saints Day which is a public holiday throughout Spain. It must be said that this tradition of going to visit the recently deceased at the cemetery, although still very much alive, is not as popular as in the past, and it is mainly the elderly who are most faithful to it.