A fiesta of flowers, candles and Saints’ Bones

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SOME Spaniards will go away today because All Saints’ Day, a national holiday, falls on a Thursday, providing a long weekend.

But however many escape to the coast or the country, still more are planning a trip to the cemetery. Few interred there will have been saints, but on All Saints’ Day flowers are taken to loved ones’ graves. Or, since this is Spain, to their cemetery niches. Families have been doing this since Saint Odilo of Cluny designated November 1as a day of prayer for the dead in 980. It was already a pagan festival and remains one, thanks to Halloween (All Hallows Eve).

Halloween now has been enthusiastically adopted by the Spanish, especially children, but the visit to the cemetery remains more important. The mini-break may beckon more people than before, and cemeteries are increasingly visited during the preceding days, but they are unfailingly visited and never later than November 1.

Special buses are put on to prevent traffic jams and florists expect to make 25 per cent of their annual sales in the days before November 1. Todos los Santos is the reason why big fat votive candles are on sale in every supermarket, to be lit in memory of the dead. Baker’s shops bring out their November 1 specialities and although every region has its own, Huesos de Santo or Saints’ Bones cross most boundaries. Little marzipan rolls with a gooey centre, they date from the Middle Ages when each one was eaten was supposedly a soul saved. Just what Saint Odilo had in mind so long ago.

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