Why is November 1st, Día de Todos los Santos, so important in Spain?
November 1st is an important day and a bank holiday across the whole of Spain, including the Canary Islands. It is Día de Todos Los Santos, or All Saints' Day, and in other Latin countries, Day of the Dead, but it isn't a macabre event, it is the day when families remember loved ones who have passed away and get together in cemeteries to visit the resting places of their relatives.
More flowers are sold at this time of the year than any other in Spain, and the cemeteries become adorned with colourful floral offerings as many spend a few days beforehand cleaning, painting, and laying fresh flowers around the niche in preparation for the special day.
Families also take food to enjoy at the cemetery, especially the traditional sweet cakes such as 'huesos de santos' (which translates as saints' bones), 'borrachuelos' (drunken cakes), and 'buñuelos' (fried pastries filled with chocolate or cream), as myths say that with each one eaten, a soul was saved from purgatory.
However, these days many traditions are dying out. There used to be three consecutive masses held on November 2nd, one for the souls trapped in purgatory, and the other two for the families of the dead. It was also usual to go to the theatre on the day and watch 'Don Juan Tenorio' by José Zorilla, mainly because the last act is held in a cemetery and the dialogue is about death.
In other Latin countries where November 1st is celebrated as Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), families remember their dead relatives in much the same way.
In Mexico, the celebrations for the Día de Los Muertos' are a mixture of Aztec and Christian traditions. 'La Catrina' (the elegant skeleton) is an iconic figure representing death and is depicted by a female skeleton usually grinning broadly, wearing an elegant, colourful dress. Elaborate altars are set up and decorated with candles and everyday objects that the deceased person used.
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