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All Saints Day

All Saints Day 2017 and 2018

In Spain, every November 1st is “El Dia de Todos los Santos” (All Saints Day).

YearDateDayHolidayAutonomous Communities
20171 NovWedAll Saints' DayNational
20181 NovThuAll Saints' DayNational
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All Saints Day is a largely Catholic holiday, and Spain is a largely Catholic country, with 70 percent identifying as Roman Catholic and Roman Catholicism being the only religion course offered in the public schools.

On the other hand, 25 percent of Spain’s 46 million people consider themselves non-religious, and even those who call themselves Catholic seldom go to mass. On All Saints Day, however, all that changes for a moment, as millions of devout families turn out to decorate the graves of the deceased. Some even clean up the graves several days in advance to prepare them for the occasion.

For All Saints Day, people all over Spain return from the big cities to their original home towns and villages, causing a good deal of traffic congestion but keeping the memory of now-gone relatives alive. The ceremonies are very solemn, and masses are held several times in the day at many graveyards.

At grave sites, you will see many ornate floral arrangements and a an incredible diversity of colours, though chrysanthemums are particularly traditional. Shops will be well stocked with bouquets in anticipation of the holiday, and streets will be lined with flower vendors. In fact, more flowers are sold in Spain on All Saints Day than on any other day of the year.

Interestingly, All Saints Day used to be observed on May 13th, but the Catholic Church moved the date to coincide with the pagan celebrations held by the Celts and others on November 1st. Ultimately, however, the holiday with pagan roots became Halloween and was kept on the preceding day, October 31st. All Saints Day began as a remembrance of Christian martyrs, but it was later expanded as a day to honour all of the dead.

Should you be in Spain for All Saints Day, some activities you may wish to take part in include:

  • See the famed All Saints Day celebrations in Cadiz Province, which is part of Andalusia. There are candle-light processions, street markets, kids’ programs, and more, and the city comes alive with colour and excitement.
  • In many parts of Spain, you can see the play Don Juan Tenorio performed on All Saints Day. The play is a classic written by Jose Zorrilla, and it has tragic scenes, a love story, and a underlying religious overtones.
  • Enjoy authentic Spanish foods traditionally associated with All Saints Day. In particular, look for roast chestnuts, which are called “castañas,” and for a type of almond cake called a “pannallet.” There is much history behind these two foods: you can learn the legends about a chestnut saleswoman named “Maria la Castañada,” and in the past, almond cakes were left on top of graves as food offerings for the dead. Finally, you should try a desert called “huesos de santo” (Saint’s bones). They are made of marzipan, so there is no need to worry.

Since Spaniards take to the roads by the millions late on October 31st, you may wish to travel earlier on the 31st or else on the morning of November 1st to miss some of the traffic. There will be plenty to do both on and around All Saints Day, for it is one of the most significant holidays on the Spanish calendar. If you attend any ceremonies at graveyards, be prepared to dress up a bit and show respect, for the Spanish are very solemn on such occasions. Finally, airline tickets might get scarce just before All Saints Day, so it is best to book early if possible.