Not many people know that Halloween is not all there is at this time of the year. In Christian based cultures (be it now or historically) Halloween is the eve of two much more important days – All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, the latter being the one widely celebrated in the Czech Republic. All Souls’ Day is held on the 2nd November and it’s a day of remembering those who passed away. There’s many traditions associated with this day but unfortunately most of them have been long forgotten.
I’m all for sticking to traditions and reviving them (plus Czechs, including myself, are incredibly superstitious!) – I’ll paint eggs at Easter, I’ll shake an elderberry bush on Christmas Day, I’ll eat lentils on New Year’s Day. And I’ll bake soul cakes on All Souls’ Day.
Czech soul cakes are very different from the English ones. They can be either sweet or savoury, and come in very specific shapes. They are either shaped as bones, the letter S (for Saint), crosses or little ghastly souls – hence the common name Souls & Bones. Traditionally they were given to those less fortunate and homeless – which is where you can trace the beginnings of trick or treating back to.
I’m not trying to say go all out and do each and every All Souls’ Day tradition you come across, I’m not saying forget all about Halloween. But if there’s one thing you’ll do today then please remember those who can’t be here with us – perhaps go to the cemetery to weed out around the graves, light a candle or two and leave a bouquet of chrysanthemums behind.
Traditional Czech soul cakes
Also known as Souls & Bones
- 500 g plain flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 sachet yeast
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups warm milk
Mix flour, sugar, salt, egg and yeast.
Add warm milk & work into a smooth dough.
Leave the dough to rise for at least 40 minutes.
Shape the dough into small buns.
Place in a preheated oven (200ºC) for 20 minutes. Glaze with whisked egg throughout.