Right around the beginning of October, you’ll notice the balmy scent of roasted chestnuts and baked sweet potatoes in the air. It is a sign that the festival of la Castanyada is approaching. The Castanyada is a popular festival celebrated in Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. It is traditionally celebrated on the October 31st, the eve of All Saints Day.
History of la Castanyada
Just as Anglo-Saxon countries have Halloween, Mexicans celebrate Día de los Muertos, la Castanyada originates from old funerary rituals, commonly used to commemorate ancestors that have passed away.
It is said that the tradition of eating the foods came from needing energy to stay up all night. Bell ringers from the churches would go around the neighbourhoods telling people it was time to pray for the departed. It is also said that it was customary to leave the fires on during the night and set food up for the ancestors so they might eat and warm themselves when returning for a visit.
Celebrating la Castanyada, a culinary event
The night of la castanyada, a fire is prepared for roasting the chestnuts. Sweet potatoes can also be roasted on the same fire. Along with these, many people eat panellets (little breads). These are sweet ball-shaped desserts made of marzipan and usually covered in pine nuts. These foods are usually consumed with moscatel wine.
La Castanyera, the symbol of La Castanyada
Typically, the figure that all the children anticipate is the Castanyera herself. She is usually depicted as an old woman, dressed in tattered clothes, with a long skirt that covers her feet and a kerchief over her head. She is usually shown in front of a spit, roasting and selling chestnuts on the street, wrapping them in newspaper.
Even stranger traditions
A few born and bred residents of Barcelona have said that the Castanyera has eight legs. In schools, they will often put up a life-sized image of the Castanyera with a long skirt and eight legs. Each week, they will cut off one of her legs and throw it into a fire. It is from the first day of the Castanyada that the ritual begins and is meant to coincide with the the coming of los reyes magos (the three wisemen).