By Jennifer Popplewell •
Published: 01 Nov 2023 • 8:00
All Saints’ Day in Spain (Dia de Todos Los Santos) takes place on November 1. It is an extremely important national public holiday, although many shops and outlets will still be open.
Dia De Todos Los Santos is known to all in Spain, and it is a day when people from all around the country return to their hometown or village to lay flowers and candles on the graves of beloved relatives who have now passed on. This day of memory and respect holds a special place in the hearts of the natives of this country, and is honoured by all, with many staying in the cemetery for several hours during this day.
The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be determined for certain as it has been celebrated on various days in different places around the world in history. It may have originated from a Christian tradition in the fourth century where a festival was held on the Sunday following Pentecost to honour all the saints and martyrs. The first published All Saints’ Day took place on May 13, 609, just before Pope Boniface IV accepted the gift of the Pantheon in Rome. The Pope declared the day a holiday in honour of all martyrs. In 835, the festival was moved to November 1 and said to be a day to honour all the saints recognised by God who now took their place in heaven. However, this date may have been chosen intentionally to substitute the numerous pagan festivals that were being celebrated throughout Europe during this time, festivals that told of evil spirits roaming the Earth and the need to protect oneself from them. The Church did not approve of these beliefs, and therefore presented this new celebration as a way of transforming this time into a holy one, where spirits are honoured and recognised to be with our divine creator, rather than be lost on the land and feared.
All Saints’ Day is a holy day of commitment in Catholicism. This means that followers must attend mass on the specified date unless they are ill or have another valid reason. During the mass there is traditionally a reading of the Beatitudes and the eight blessings given by Jesus. In recent years, many Catholic churches have began to honour all people who have died throughout the year on All Saints’ Day.
The Spanish people will not only visit the graves of relatives and decorate them with elaborate floral displays, but will also serve special dishes and eat symbolic food that further honour and commemorate this emotional day. One of these is the ‘huesos de santos’ – the saint’s bones (!) – that are sweet treats and commonly sold in shops. If this only slightly terrifies you you can also try some ‘body bread’, which is actually more like cake but symbolises the pastry that used to be commonly left by a dead body in the past as an offering to the deceased. For a slightly less intense snack, try some hearty roasted chestnuts. This tradition comes from the legend of Maria La Castañada, a chestnut seller who would roast the nuts for people to eat in between prayers. As well as these tasty treats, The Eucharist, or Mass will often be performed in the cemetery many times throughout the day.
Another of Spain’s All Saints’ traditions, is the performing of the play ‘Don Juan Tenorio’, written by Jose Zorrilla. The final act of this performance shows the protagonist’s choice between salvation or hell and is set in a cemetery, with the legendary lover desperately lamenting over his betrayal of his deceased lover.
Sometimes when living in modern day Spain, it is easy to forget the deep rooted religious beliefs of this country. However, All Saints’ Day comes as a powerful reminder of the true depth and importance that religion holds here. Alongside the all important element of honouring one’s family and the eternal peace in heaven that those believers await.
Whatever your beliefs, Spain opens the gates for all to honour and relive the memories of loved ones lost. It is a day for rest and reflection, of this fleeting journey we call life, and the love we all will one day, leave behind.
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Jennifer is a proud northerner from Sheffield, England, who is currently living in Spain. She loves swimming in rivers, talking to the stars and eating luxurious chocolate.
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