by Jessie Maguire

What is this Todos Santos business all about? Well, Bolivian holidays can certainly be confusing. There are certainly a lot of them – 13 “feriados” in total, which means they come around at least once a month.

In the West, we’re certainly not used to this many public holidays, each with its own special traditions, foods and vibe. Participating in these mini work breaks is a lovely way to delve more deeply into Bolivian culture and, of course, have an awesome day out.

Si Todos Santos, Porque Tanta Wawa! What are Todos Santos and Mast’aku?

Todos Santos is also called All Souls’ Day, All Saints Day, Feast of All Souls, Day of the Dead and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Ready to feast on some souls – I mean, breads?

Todos Santos is celebrated on the 2nd of November, and it’s a Roman and Anglo-Catholic holiday for commemorating the departed, and a chance for believers to pray for people stuck in purgatory (the poor things), easing their suffering and getting them on their way to the gates of heaven asap.

La Mezcla Actual

Originally a French tradition popularized by monks, this holiday has morphed and developed over time. In Bolivia, it’s now a mixture of traditional indigenous Quechau-Aymara practices and Catholic ones.

At this same time of year, Andean cultures are thought to have celebrated the end of the dry season and the deceased, but also the beginning of the rainy season with “mast’a”, or ritual tables.

Pacha-p’usaqa, Pachaqamasi, Pachamama, Pachakuti, Uywir, Achachila and other deities are involved in the indigenous part of the Todos Santos celebrations. You can read more about that in Spanish here.

What About Halloween?

Our holidays are undeniably connected, although they now occur on slightly different days. The ancient Celtic peoples of the British Isles also honored the god Samhain, the horse of death, around 2,000 years ago on October 31st. This celebration was also a mixture of Roman/Christian and pagan traditions.

Celebrating The Celtic New Year

The Celts celebrated their New Year on November 1st. This date marked the end of the summer and harvest season, and the beginning of a cold, dark winter associated with the death of all things.

On the night before the 1st, the Celtic dudes believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the Druids would make massive bonfires so the local people could gather, burn crops and animals as a sacrifice to the gods. They would wear costumes made from animal heads and skins. What a rocking New Year’s!

This traditional celebration was then modified by the Church as the Centuries went by, and finally became the Halloween we celebrate today.

Do Bolivians Celebrate Halloween too?

Yes, they do. But Halloween and its parties have only become popular recently due to the influence of the USA, and middle class people are the only ones who have adopted it and really get stuck in.

How to Experience The Perfect Bolivian Todos Santos

The Todos Santos of today in the villages around Cochabamba is something to behold. On November 1st tables are prepared to receive the souls. Special braided breads are made in the shape of little people and other forms. Fruit, sugar cane, pastries, alcoholic drinks and other foods and beverages are also put out for deceased relatives and friends before midday.

Everything is set out on a black table cloth for older people, and a white cloth for children and young people, with candlesticks and candles for everyone to pray over as they stand at the table. Flowers are also displayed, alongside photos of the deceased, designs of symbolic saints and virgins, crucifixes, breads and glasses of coffee or water.

Songs are also sung on this special day. Mourning, singing, drinking and praying certainly make Todos Santos distinctive for most visitors! “Reza chicu” is performed at houses where a family is in mourning, and they sing “los alabados” or “alabanzas”, which are special traditional songs. Bands are also common, as everyone starts to eat lunch.

Once lunch is in your tummy, the praying starts and people travel from house to house, where they are offered drinks and breads to take away.

Where to Have for Lunch

Todos Santos is certainly a feast day, so you won’t need to take a packet lunch if you go out of town! It’s also very sociable, and many families will invite visitors and residents from the town into their houses to pray for the deceased members of their families. There is bound to be a lot of food everywhere you go.

November 2nd

On the 2nd, the souls are bid farewell as the tables are put away. Everyone goes to the cemetery, where a table is laid out with the breads, coca, cheese, dishes, money and other treats the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime. A lot of praying takes place, sweets and other goodies are handed out. According to tradition, nothing should be left in order to protect the family.

The Best Towns to Visit During Todos Santos

Toro Toro is said to have a lovely celebration during Todos Santos. But Tarata and town closer to Cochabamba also have a lot to offer.

In fact, Todos Santos can make the perfect post-Halloween feriado, as the party continues in true Bolivian style, with plenty of cultural experiences, food and drinks to enjoy.

Halloween and Todos Santos at SB

This year’s Halloween party is bound to be as good as or even better than last year’s memorable fund raising event. Halloween is so much fun.

What are you going to dress up as? Can’t wait for the party and the photos afterward. Please show us your pics in the SB Social Club. Enjoy!

Images courtesy of