How to spend Halloween in Barcelona: History and traditions
Halloween in Barcelona is known as “Dia de los muertos”, in English; “Day of the dead” or “day of the dead”. Instead of a one night party, here it spans three days!
Although children in Spain put out “candy or spells”, known as “truco o trato”, and people still dress up in all kinds of things, from witches to ghosts and zombies, the celebration in Spain is actually quite contrasted with that of England!
On November 1, Spain has a public holiday, called “Todos los Santos” or “Tots Sants” in Catalonia. Both with meaning, all Saints. All Saints’ Day is above all a day when families and friends come together to honor loved ones who have passed away.
On this day, it is traditional for family members to visit the resting places of their deceased parents and lay flowers. This day is dedicated to showing respect and paying homage.
This day also marks the beginning of the traditional celebration of Castanyada.
La Castanyada: The International Chestnut Festival
This traditional festival is deeply rooted in Catalonia and is celebrated on All Saints Day (November 1). On this day every year all over Spain people eat Castanyes in Catalan. Castanyes are one of the most famous foods you can find in Barcelona around All Saints’ Day. They are traditionally eaten the day before and the day of Castanyada, but can be found anytime in late October at street vendors in Barcelona.
Castanyes are roasted chestnuts, grilled over charcoal barbecues and often sold wrapped in newspaper, perfect for warming society as Barcelona gets cooler. Panellets are also very popular at this time of year in Barcelona. Panellets can be described as small almond-flavored balls covered with pine nuts. These snacks are served with flavors of coconut, lemon or chocolate. They’re sweet and traditional, perfect for those of you who want to get involved in Catalan culture while on vacation, you’ll find them mostly in local bakeries.
During the Castanyada you can also find boniatos, if you are a sweet potato fan these are for you. Another special street vendor in Barcelona, and a nice healthy alternative to overdosing on sugar. These little delicacies will warm you from the inside, often washed down with a traditional sweet glass of Muscat.
History behind La Castanyada
Traditionally, Castanyada and All Saints’ Day are the indicators that summer is over and colder weather is coming. The celebration itself is deeply linked to the cult of the dead, it was often customary to leave the house fire alight, placing food around the fireplace to once again welcome the spirits of deceased family members.
The tradition of eating roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes comes from stories on All Saints’ Eve, when the bells rang until the early hours of the morning in commemoration of the deceased. Friends, relatives and neighbors participated in the sound of the bells, and these foods were eaten for food.
Celebrate at home
Although most of the festivities in Catalonia include crazy street parties, dances, costumes and fireworks. La Castanyada is more of a warm affair, with the majority of families going to cemeteries to lay flowers, then spending time with loved ones. If you are in Barcelona during this festival, why not take like a local and visit one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Barcelona; the cemetery of Poblenou.
Poblenou cemetery is a small funerary art museum, full of sculptures and harmonious corners. It was based on a design by the Italian architect Antonio Ginesi, with his style of Egyptian influence.
Cook your own Castayanada treats
If you love the sound of traditional panellets and can’t make it to Barcelona to try them out here… why not make your own? This simple, sweet and traditional recipe gives you everything you need to make your own panellets.
- 1 lb almond flour (the base of the marzipan)
- 1 small potato (to mix with marzipan – another tradition!)
- 2 ½ cups of sugar (granulated white sugar is traditional, but you can use brown sugar if you prefer)
- eggs (which we will use in the dough, to bind the dough to the fillings and brush as egg coating before baking)
- 1 (grated lemon zest) Lemon zest (to add to the batter)
- Toppings (go wild; you can use pine nuts, finely chopped almonds, coconut shavings, cocoa powder… the list goes on!)
Steps to make and create:
Quick tip: if you have a food processor, it will make things a lot easier!
- In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and lemon zest until blended.
- Add the mashed potatoes and mix.
- Add the almond flour, continue to stir the mixture until everything is combined.
- Shape the mixture (dough) into a large disc, cover and let stand for a few hours until cool.
- Roll out the dough into equal sized balls and dip each ball in a bowl of beaten egg, dip in a second bowl of the filling you prefer. Make sure the whole ball is covered, use your hands if necessary to press the nuts into the dough.
- Brush the Panellets with the gilding after placing them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Bake these Panellets for 10 minutes until the top is golden brown, keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!
- Serve and enjoy! Panellets last up to a week, that’s if you can resist eating them for that long!
We hope you all have a wild, traditional and super sweet Halloween this year.
Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at AB Apartment Barcelona. AB Apartment Barcelona is an apartment rental agency offering over a thousand short and long term apartments across Barcelona.
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