First things first: It's widely understood that Halloween is celebrated more intensely in the U.S. than in other parts of the world. Until the '90s, it was perceived as a children's event throughout Europe. But as time progresses, more Halloween-themed events are beginning to crop up throughout the continent, especially in Spain, which has long celebrated the Day of the Dead.
Now, in addition to the traditional Día de Todos los Santos and Día de los Difuntos (All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day) celebrations, you'll also find modern-day costume parties and themed events taking place in major nightlife hotspots such as Madrid and Barcelona. It's important to know the customs surrounding these holidays if you plan to visit Spain during October and early November.
All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day
One major reason why partying on the night of Halloween (called Dia de las Brujas or "Day of the Witches") has taken off in Spain is because the following day, November 1, is a public holiday called All Saints' Day. The night before most public holidays in Spain (called "vísperas de festivo," or "holiday eve") is treated like a Saturday night, warranting ample partying.
All Saints' Day (Día de Todos los Santos) is a celebration of Christian saints and All Souls' Day (Día de los Difuntos to Spaniards, Día de los Muertos to Mexicans, and Day of the Dead to Americans) is a celebration of deceased relatives. Though technically two different holidays, the two have been combined into a two-day family event of religious significance. Families will often lay flowers on deceased relatives' graves and attend Mass throughout the day. It's a solemn affair, not like the upbeat revelries that surround Halloween in the States. The traditional ceremonial feast would include roasted chestnuts, castañas, and small almond cakes called pannellets.
Other Ways to Celebrate Halloween in Spain
In addition to Día de Todos los Santos and Día de los Difuntos customs—mostly practiced by the older generation nowadays—many modern Halloween events are now taking place throughout Spain.
- Horror and Fantasy Film Festival: Every year, San Sebastian hosts this film festival for the horror and fantasy genre. It also includes street shows, performances, live music, comedy, and exhibitions. In 2020, it's scheduled for October 30 through November 6.
- Ghost Night Walking Tour: You can 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: Around the time of Halloween, "zombies" usually take over towns and villages all over Spain, roaming the streets from dusk until dawn. Check for special zombie-themed events in the towns of Cuellar, Alcázar de San Juan, Archena, and Calatayud.
- Tosantos: In all of Spain, Cadiz in Andalusia is perhaps the best—but definitely the strangest—place to celebrate All Saints' Day. At this week-long festival, known as Tosantos, you'll witness all sorts of peculiar things at the market (for instance, both merchants and goods donning costumes).