La Castanyada, a dying tradition?

Catalonia’s fall tradition faces competition from imported Halloween celebrations

Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and chestnuts coexisting in a supermarket in Badalona, on October 29, 2020 (by Guifré Jordan)
Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and chestnuts coexisting in a supermarket in Badalona, on October 29, 2020 (by Guifré Jordan) / Cristina Tomàs White

Cristina Tomàs White | Barcelona

October 31, 2020 01:24 PM

If you’ve ever been to Catalonia in the fall, you’ll have noticed street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, with stands scattered about the streets of Barcelona as well as countless other cities and towns.

This is because chestnuts, or ‘castanyes’, are eaten as part of La Castanyada, a holiday which falls on October 31, the same day as Halloween and the night before All Saints’ Day. 

The centuries-old tradition traces its roots back to when people would huddle beside the fire to eat seasonal foods, including chestnuts and sweet potatoes, as well as marzipan treats known as panellets, the night before paying their respects to their ancestors in cemeteries on November 1st. 

Similar celebrations can also be found in northern Spain, where it is known as Magosto, and Portugal as well as southern France.

Chestnut seller

Anna, a ‘castanyera’ or chestnut seller on Barcelona’s Ronda Sant Antoni, proudly told Catalan News about the “family tradition” she’s kept alive for the past 22 years. Two of her uncles ran the seasonal business for 30 years before her, with a stand in the exact same place - her daughter is a ‘castanyera’, on Gran Via, too.

But some fear this autumnal custom is dying out as the once foreign but now increasingly popular Halloween appears to be taking hold in Catalonia too.

Anna, however, was also quick to fault the changing dynamics in her neighborhood for her stand’s dwindling business. Sant Antoni, now one of Barcelona’s trendiest areas, is perhaps what some would call a victim of its success as gentrification and rising prices have forced more and more long-term residents to move out. 

“The neighborhood isn’t doing well either,” she says. “We’ve lost a lot of the good neighbors we once had here.”

This year, with the pandemic discouraging many a chestnut vendor, hasn’t helped the ‘Castanyada’ cause either. Not only that, but many schools in Catalonia, which usually mark the holiday with panellet-baking amongst their younger students, will not be partaking in this fall tradition due to health and safety concerns.

Pandemic aside, the influence of globalization and the highly commercialized US version of Halloween is undeniable. Years ago it would have been unthinkable to see children and quite a few adults dressing up on the 31st or to have Halloween paraphernalia creeping up in stores a month before the date - and yet, this has become the norm here and in many other parts of the globe too.

But Catalans are a proud bunch. While losing ‘La Castanyada’ entirely seems unlikely, October 31 may very well be morphing into a ‘Castaween’ of sorts.