The Differences between All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in Spain

Spanish culture, Spanish traditions | October 29, 2012 | No comments

November is very nearly upon us and with it comes two Spanish traditions which, paradoxically, have been confused for many years by those who celebrate them: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

When both of these events are mentioned to people in Spain what comes to mind is the date of the 1st of November and both traditions are spoken of without distinction being made. But, they are not in fact the same: whilst All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st, All Souls’ Day takes place on November 2nd.

What exactly is the difference? All Saints’ Day was established as a day that brings together the celebrations of all the Saints of the Catholic Church so that if any congregation member had forgotten or was unable to spend time at home repenting or praying they would be able to make up for it on the 1st of November. On the other hand, All Souls’ Day, the day after that of All Saints’ Day, commemorates the ‘faithful departed’. November 2nd was a day when people would pray for the souls of those who perhaps still had some sort of “stain” upon them, preventing them from getting into heaven.

When the soul flies

As you can see, then, each day has its own different and even distinct purpose. So what has caused this confusion between the two? Many people think that it is to do with something as simple as making the most of available time: because All Saints’ Day is the only one given as an official holiday, people take advantage of it in order to make the required visits to the cemeteries that they will be unable to do the following day due to it being a normal working day.

Additionally, we should also mention that in the past, as older people will recall, the 2nd of November was also an official holiday, and so the period of two official holiday days became known as the “All Saints’ Holidays”. However in the end the second official holiday day was done away with and for this reason its specific traditions have ended up being transferred to the previous day.

"Bones of the Saint"

Maybe this can help to explain the reasoning behind a Spanish custom which, to an uninformed visitor to the country, could appear a little “grim”: that of eating “bones of the Saint”. This does not in fact mean that we Spaniards really eat the bones of an actual Saint: we are simply referring to the small, tubular marzipan treats that are filled with sweetened egg yolk or chocolate. These sweets would have been typical of All Saints’ Day, but not of All Souls’ Day. However, following the union of the two festivities, it has ended up being associated with and consumed on All Souls’ Day. Additionally, if the reader was to ask around they will most likely find someone who will tell them that it is because the Spanish wish to become imbued with divinity that they consume these saintly body parts. Obviously, this last assertion is unfounded and we doubt very much that it is correct.

If the differences are now clearer (if the reader remains still a little confused they can feel free to blame us and not their own comprehension ability) we strongly encourage any visitor to take a trip to one of Spain’s graveyards during these two days: there they will probably be able to see some older people who remain true to the proper All Souls’ Day.

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