Barcelona Skyline

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Better than Halloween

La castañada is celebrated throughout Catalunya on October 31 All Souls Day eve. The essential menu at this feast are the humble castaña (chestnut), sweet white Moscatel wine, panallets (a sweet made of almond/ potato paste covered with pine nuts), and roast boniatos (a kind of sweet potato).

Just like Anglo-Saxon Halloween la castañada has evolved from an ancient funeral rite. The menu is said to derive from an old village custom. On All-Souls Night the church and convent bells tolled all night long to honor the dead and remind the living to pray. Ringing the bells was long hard work and chestnuts, a great source of energy, were abundant. The bell tollers ate them in great quantities to avoid passing out and roasted them to keep from freezing. And they washed them down with the local white wine.

Family and friends started coming to give physical or moral support and ended up joining in. Since churches and convents were everywhere, almost everyone was at one or other of them eating and drinking.

By the 18th century the custom went urban and the iconic castañera first appeared selling her kind of “chestsnuts roasting on an open fire”. This folkloric street vender with her ragged dress and old scarf has been joined by tidy sweetshops where panallets and wine are sold. Come join the fun. It’s a great time of year for everyone.

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