For visitors to Barcelona at the end of October, one of the first things that stands out is the smell of roasting chestnuts on the street. Walk a block in the old city and you're bound to see one of these stalls, with a large metal bowl being heated by a small fire and filled with the unmistakeable aroma that I had previously associated with blustery winter days in New York.
But the Castanyada is a Halloween tradition in Catalonia. Furthermore, it dates back more than 200 years, although, like it's more commercial counterpart, it finds its roots in the festival of All Saints Day the following day. And like Halloween, the festival is particularly popular among children, who eat these tasty treats (as well as local cookies and sweets called panellets) with gusto. The image of the Castanyada is traditionally a woman (La Castanyera, who collects the chestnuts) wrapped in an old coat sitting in front of a bowl of roasting chestnuts.
Popular legend attributes the idea of eating roasted chestnuts to the enormous amount of energy contained within, enough to keep vigilant family and friends awake through the night to keep the evil spirits away from the cemeteries. But whatever the original reason, the tradition has taken hold and now provides locals and visitors alike with an alluring smell as they wander the streets of Barcelona.
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