Todos Santos in Bolivia

Written by: Joana Flores

English edited by: Thalia Taylor

This article appeared in the November 2013 edition of Inti

The celebration of All Saints’ Day usually starts at lunchtime on 1st of November and continues until lunchtime on 2 November. This special day is dedicated to the souls of passed-away family members, although the exact customs vary depending on the region (Highlands, Valleys and Tropics).  The customs also vary between the campo (countryside) and the city.

The Mesa (offering table)

Sweetbreads for Todos Santos from the market in Sucre              Typical food for Todods Santos

Mostly local produce is used in rural areas, like animal-shaped sweetbread figures made from wheat or quinoa, traditional dishes, and drinks based on macerated fruit and Chicha (a beer made from fermented corn). The people then head to the cemetery with all the prepared food and drinks to set up a “mesa” beside every grave, and wait for their visitors in order to pray for the eternal rest of the dead. It is traditional to invite friends, family, and sometimes even strangers to come and pray for the dead.

In urban areas, mostly small biscuits in various shapes and candies are used. The ones used her in Sucre, often take the shape of babies, called t'antawawas, which is quechua for bread babies and they also have sweetbread ladders and animals. The “mesas” are generally set up in family homes because the city counsels don’t allow these preparations in the cemeteries. 

Mourning

Later on, it is customary to receive groups of mourners so that they can pray, compensating them with biscuits, typical Bolivian food, fruit, soft drinks, sweets, and Chicha. This “asking people to pray” custom leads to the salvation of the spirits of the dead. However, this opportunity is seized by kids and the very poor to enjoy biscuits and other delicacies, which they can otherwise hardly ever afford to buy.

In some areas, especially in the country, the custom of celebrating All Saints’ Day goes on for up to a week. During the course of the week these activities continue. 

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