Day of the Dead and Halloween Customs in Spain

Couple dressed up at a Halloween party

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Many of us already know Halloween is 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 about the Spanish custom of observing the three-day celebration of Halloween, Día de Todos los Santos, and Día de los Difuntos (known as Día de los Muertos in other Spanish-speaking cultures).

First things first: 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 around town, particularly at major nightlife hotspots.

One reason that Halloween partying has become more popular is that the following day, All Saints' Day (November 1), 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.

People dancing at a nightclub Halloween party
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Spanish Equivalents to Halloween

Of course, Halloween is closely associated with another event in the Spanish-speaking world: Mexico's Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, or All Souls' Day, on November 2).

In Spain, this same festival is honored. However, it's 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.

Spain's version of the holiday is called both Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints' Day, celebrated November 1) and Día de los Difuntos (literally, Day of the Dead, celebrated November 2). Though technically two different events, the former commemorates saints and the latter allows families to remember their own deceased relatives.

Today, the holidays have been combined into a two-day family event 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 time. Look out for other parties and activities, especially around the nightlife areas of town.

If Día de los Muertos-type 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. 2019 dates: October 26–November 1

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 Role-Play 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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