Day of the Dead and Halloween Customs in Spain

Halloween in Madrid
Image: Bea/Creative Commons (Some Rights Reserved)

Halloween: an excuse to dress in costumes such as cartoon characters, zombies, or sexy nurses. If you'll be in Spain in late October, it helps to know how the Spanish observe the three-day celebration of Halloween, Dia de Todos los Santos, and Dia de Muertos.

Halloween is more popular in the United States than in other parts of the world. Until the 1990s, Halloween in Europe was seen as a children's event—with the under-12s going trick-or-treating with their parents—that mostly passed by the adult population.

Every year, however, more and more Halloween-themed events take place in cities around Spain, particularly larger cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. Expect costume parties and themed events in many of the nightspots in town.

One reason that Halloween partying has become more popular is that the following day, All Saints' Day, is a public holiday. The night before most public holidays in Spain ("vísperas de festivo") is treated like a Saturday night, with people taking advantage of not having to go to work or school the next day by partying all night long.

Spanish Equivalents to Halloween

Of course, Halloween is closely associated with another event in the Spanish-speaking world: Mexico's "Dia de Muertos" (Day of the Dead or All Souls' Day). In Spain, though not celebrated in the same sense as in Mexico (much to the surprise of many Americans who visit Spain and expect more similarities with Mexico), there is "Dia de Difuntos" (literally Day of the Dead) or "Dia de Todos los Santos" (All Saints' Day). Though technically two different events, the former is to commemorate dead relatives and the latter is for saints.

In reality, the holidays have been combined. Dia de Difuntos/Dia de Todos los Santos is a family day of highly religious significance. Families visit the graves of loved ones and leave flowers. Mass is held three times.

Halloween-Themed Events in Spain

This is just a small selection of events you may see in Spain around Halloween. Look out for other parties and activities, especially around the nightlife areas of town. If Dia de Muertos activities don't interest you, there are plenty of other festivals to check out in Spain in October and November

Horror and Fantasy Film Festival
Every year, San Sebastian hosts this film festival that also includes street shows, performances, live music, comedy, and exhibitions.

Ghost Night Walking Tour
Explore Barcelona's neighborhoods and serpentine streets on this guided English-speaking tour that tells tales of exorcisms, witchcraft, haunted convents, paranormal activity, and the shocking history of the Arc de Triomf and the Church of Santa Maria.

Zombie Events and Roleplay Games
Zombies take over towns and villages all over Spain as they roam from dusk till dawn. If this kind of event excites you more than frightens you, check for special zombie-themed events around Halloween in the towns of Cuellar, Alcázar de San Juan, Archena, and Catalayud.

In all of Spain, Cadiz in Andalusia is perhaps the best place to celebrate All Saints' Day. At this weeklong festival, known as Tosantos, you'll witness dressed-up rabbits, dolls made of fruit, and suckling pigs at the market. Those wanting a traditional and more subdued All Saints' Day attend religious ceremonies and visit the graves of loved ones. Shops are closed this day.

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