This traditional and popular festival, deeply rooted in Catalonia, is celebrated on All Saints’ Day (1 November), but also the day before (31 October).
The tradition of this festival is to eat chestnuts. Chestnuts are traditionally eaten on the day before and the day of Castanyada, but they can be found at street vendors in Barcelona at any time in late October.
What is it?
Chestnuts are roasted chestnuts on charcoal grills and often sold wrapped in newspaper, perfect for warming company when it is cold in Barcelona. Panellets are also very common in Barcelona at this time of year. They can be described as small almond-flavoured balls covered with pine nuts. These snacks are served in coconut, lemon or chocolate flavours. They are beautiful and traditional, and you can find them mainly in local bakeries. If you visit Barcelona during this period, this is a must-have dessert, which can also be used as a souvenir!
If you have a salty palate, you can also find sweet potatoes during the Castanyada. These little delicacies will warm you up from the inside out, often accompanied by a glass of sweet traditional muscatel wine.
Where does this festival come from?
Castanyada is a pagan tradition – like Magosto in Galicia or Asturias or Halloween in the Anglo-Saxon countries – whose origins date back to the 18th century. There are several legends that explain these beginnings. It is said that before All Saints’ Day, families gathered to watch over their dead. In order to survive, they stocked up on the first fruits of autumn, mainly chestnuts, legumes and sweet potatoes washed down with sweet wine (today’s Muscat). This custom gave rise to the emblematic figure of the “castanyera”, who prayed while the chestnuts were roasting.
Another theory is that the festival was for bell ringers, who rang the bells all night to remind the faithful of the need to pray for the souls of their dead. Whenever they rested, they regained their strength by eating what people brought them, in this case the fruits of autumn.
How is it celebrated?
Although most festivities in Catalonia include wild street parties, dancing, costumes and fireworks. The castanyada is more of a quiet celebration, with most families going to the cemetery to lay flowers and then spend time with their loved ones. If you are in Barcelona during this festival, do as the locals do and visit one of the city’s most beautiful cemeteries, the Poblenou Cemetery.