Castanyada: A Catalan Holiday

An uncommonly known fact about Halloween is that the name is a contraction, short for All Hallows’ Evening. Long before children were going door-to-door, dressed as Batman and Elsa and begging for candy, the evening was a celebration leading up to All Hallows’ Day. More commonly known today as All Saints Day, the Western Christian holiday takes place on November 1 as a day to remember the dead, in particular the “hallowed” saints.

In Catalonia, All Saints Day is celebrated alongside a local festival known as Castanyada. The holiday is centered on a family meal consisting of chestnuts, roasted or baked sweet potatoes, and preserved fruits. For dessert, marzipan-based biscuits known as panellets are served. Panellets can be flavored and topped a variety of ways: with almonds, coconut, chocolate, or orange zest. The most popular, however, is rolled in pine nuts and varnished with egg. Moscatel, a sweet Catalonian wine made from Muscat grapes, is the traditional drink of the holiday.

Castanyada is really all about the chestnuts. Street vendors, called castañeras, can be found across Barcelona roasting them on a grill and serving them wrapped in newspaper. The yummy snack is great for munching as you walk through the streets of the city. It also serves as a way to keep your hands warm if the weather is cold.

The exact origins of Castanyada are unknown, but the holiday can be traced back to ancient festivals for the dead. One theory is that the holiday meal is what the bell ringers, who wake up early on All Saints Day to ring bells in honor of the dead, would have traditionally eaten upon returning home.

Another theory is that chestnuts and sweet potatoes were a traditional funeral meal, with chestnuts symbolizing communion.

If you find yourself in Barcelona on November 1st, celebrate this charming tradition by visiting a castañera for some warm chestnuts and then swing by a confectioner for a panellets with pine nuts.

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