The lost customs of All Saints’ Day in Barcelona

All Saints celebrations nowadays have a much more festive feel than they did in centuries gone by, when the festival was devoted to the cult of the dead and was a very serious business. As Dani Cortijo recalls in his blog ‘Altres Barcelones’ (Other Barcelonas), during on 1 November the bells did not stop ringing all night and the rosary was passed around for dead souls. But this custom, like many, has been lost. Would you like to take a walk around the lost Barcelona, accompanied by the explanations of Dani Cortijo and the ‘Costumari Català’ (Catalan Customs) by Joan Amades?

Some of the most important participants in the festivities were the chestnut sellers. Amades tells us about the traditional tools they used: in the beginning, they roasted chestnuts with clay cup-shaped burners and later with copper or cast iron pans. Chestnut sellers shouted out their wares with a cry of: “Hot and large! Who wants some smoking chestnuts?”.

Joan Amades also explains that in the past chestnuts sellers first went out onto the street on All Saints’ Day. They set up their stalls around the two entry gates that led to the city’s main cemeteries. Portal de l’Àngel was the way you had to go to access Empestats cemetery, where you will now find the crossroads of Passeig de Gràcia with Carrer d’Aragó. The other gate was Don Carles, located where Icària Avenue is now, where the path into Poblenou cemetery began. Chestnut sellers were guaranteed to sell in these spots because people bought chestnuts on their way back from visiting deceased family members. The following day, 2 November, they spread out across the whole city.

Amades says that sometimes godparents would give children almond sweets called panellets, just the same as the ones they were given by nuns at Easter. Originally, panellets were not sold in bakeries, but in cafés or on the street. This is because normally some sort of wager was made to earn panellets as a prize.

It was towards the end of the 18th century that a vibrant chestnut and panellet fair was held on C/ Call, C/ Boqueria and C/ Hospital. The stalls were decked out with large dishes of panellets and chestnuts, combined and distributed in such a way that they made up designs and figures. Amades tells us that every table would have had a candelabrum placed at its head and a vase full of flowers in the middle, which gave the appearance of an altar.

Flowers are another important part of the day. Dani Cortijo explains that the tradition of honouring the dead with flowers comes from the Ancient Romans. Families got together around a tomb and, amongst other rituals, offered flowers to the dead to signify eternal life. In the nineteenth century, the florists of the city gathered around La Rambla and, as All Saints’ Day approached, the pace of work multiplied because they sold the same amount of flowers in November as they did in August.