‘Todos Santos’ Celebration

Alejandra León

‘Todos Santos’ is a Catholic event influenced by indigenous beliefs which is used to remember dead family members.

According to indigenous cultures, souls travel back to earth during this time to visit their families. In this celebration, families wait for the souls and prepare a table consisting of food, fruit, drinks and flowers which the dead person liked. The family also prepares traditional bread in different styles representing different meanings.

Mesa de "Todos Santos"

La Tantawawa: It’s a type of bread that represents a man, a woman, or a child. The ingredients are flour, butter, yeast, water and salt. The Tantawawas wear special masks crafted in traditional fashion.

La Escalera (The Staircase): It’s also a kind of bread. Indigenous beliefs say that during the trip to earth, the souls must go through obstacles and they need this tool to complete different paths.

El Caballo (The Horse): Another type of bread meant to help the souls return to the world they belong to.

Chicha Morada: This is a juice-like drink made from purple corn, sugar and lime.

Caña de Azúcar (Sugar Cane): For the souls, this symbolizes sunny days.

Food: It consists of typical dishes that the deceased person liked.

Candles: The candles illuminate the path for the traveling souls.

Fruit: On the table, the family places a variety of fruit that the deceased person liked.

Flowers: They are part of the decoration of the traditional table used to gladden the mood of the festivity. Any kind of flower is acceptable, but families generally prefer white flowers.

Pasankalla: This is a Bolivian style popcorn. They are sweet and made from kernels of corn, but are quite big and have a special taste.

Finally, when the table is set the family says Catholic prayers like the:"Our Father" , "Hail Mary" , etc.

The celebration begins at noon which is when the souls arrive and the next day the celebration concludes also at noon. This is when the souls return to their world. The families send them off with prayers.

After saying good-bye, many families visit the cemetery and/or graves to leave all the food that had been placed on the table. Other families make more food and styles of bread to visit the cemetery with. At the cemetery, the family prays for their dead loved ones and again sets a table and shares with others all the food that they have brought.

Others like to bring a special kind of traditional music called K’antus. K’antus is a traditional kind of Bolivian Andean music. It comes from the province of Charazani, a village in the department of La Paz. Instruments of this style of music include drums, zampoñas, quenas, tarkas, etc. In the evening, families leave the cemeteries after having shared all the food. They usually leave dancing to K’antu rhythms.

This is a very important celebration for Bolivians as people remember family and friends who have passed away and can no longer be with the ones they love. Also, it’s a chance to be with family and celebrate death as a normal part of life.

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Todos santos festival / tantawawa / Bolivian culture / sugar cane