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Castañada and its origin in the eve of All Saints’ Day

Chestnuts and sweet potatoes are a staple to the diet and culture of many parts of the world. They are also tied to the celebrations of All Saints’ Day, as well as the fairs and festivals typical of this season, such as the Castañada (chestnut festival). In this article, we will explore the origin of chestnuts and sweet potatoes, their translation into European languages and the figure of “castañera” on All Saints’ Day in Catalonia and other parts of Spain. Chestnut trees grow naturally in many European forests, including Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. In Asia, excellent varieties of chestnuts are grown and consumed in China, Korea and Japan. Chestnut trees can also be found in the United States and Canada.126The mere idea of collecting chestnuts is already a perfect plan for a family day out; the many captivating colours of leaves are a real visual delight characteristic of this beautiful season.

The history of chestnuts and sweet potatoes

Chestnuts come from the chestnut tree, which is widely cultivated throughout the world and thought to have originated in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The European chestnut tree has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years, as far back as Roman times! The Japanese chestnut tree originates from Japan and other parts of East Asia. Chestnuts are an integral part of Japanese cuisine, where they’re used to make chestnut puree. The American chestnut tree was native to North America, particularly the Appalachian region. However, this species almost disappeared in the 20th century due to a disease called chestnut blight. As for sweet potatoes (also known as yams): they are sweet-tasting root vegetables that come from Central and South America. They’re believed to have been one of the first crops to be domesticated in that region, whose cultivation dates back to ancient civilisations and continues to this day.129Sweet potatoes were also grown in North America long before the arrival of Europeans. They were eventually introduced to Asia through trade and European colonisers. Nowadays, they are a popular vegetable in countries like China and Japan.

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Translation of “chestnuts” and “sweet potatoes” into European languages

At Overseas Translations we produce many translations for the food and drink and restaurant sector, and with the ever more popular and widespread use of local produce, menus are constantly changing and adapted to seasonal products throughout the year. Thus, when translating menus, we must remember that rendering the terms “chestnuts” and “sweet potatoes” involves adaptation that takes into account linguistic and cultural differences. Let’s see their names in some European languages!

    • Catalán:Chestnuts: “castanyes”Sweet potatoes: “moniatos”
    • French:Chestnuts: “châtaignes”Sweet potatoes: “patates douces”
    • German:Chestnuts: “Kastanien”Sweet potatoes: “Süßkartoffeln”
    • Italian:Chestnuts: “castagne”Sweet potatoes: “patate dolci”
    • Portuguese:Chestnuts: “castanhas”Sweet potatoes: “batatas-doces”
    • Polish:Chestnuts: “kasztany”Sweet potatoes: “bataty”

Castañera on the eve of All Saints’ Day

In many regions of Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, the castañera (chestnut seller) is an emblematic figure in the celebrations of All Saints’ Day, which falls on 1 November. (Click this link to find out how Halloween is celebrated around the world). The castañera is a street vendor who sells roasted chestnuts from small stalls in the streets, squares and parks. She is easily recognisable: dressed in traditional clothing, wearing a long skirt, shawl and headscarf, with a portable brazier to roast the chestnuts. The smoke and smell of roasting chestnuts emanating from her stall, signalling the arrival of autumn and the shorter days, takes us right back to our childhood. The tradition of buying and eating roasted chestnuts on All Saints’ Day is deeply rooted in the culture of many parts and cities in Spain and other Hispanic countries. All Saints’ Day is a holiday that commemorates the deceased and is celebrated by visiting cemeteries, placing flowers on graves and participating in religious activities.128

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The importance of passing down cultural traditions

The presence of the castañera and roasted chestnut stands add a special touch to this festivity, providing a comforting traditional snack for visitors to the cemeteries and those strolling through the streets on this day. The figure of castañera appears in Spanish literature in works by Lope de Vega and Luis de Góngora, among others, and served as inspiration for other renowned writers of the time, who would show their admiration for the “castañera” as a cultural icon. These foods and traditions remind us of the cultural and culinary richness found in every corner of Spain, and of the great need to preserve them for future generations.

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