Like most things in Spain, what the nation borrows from overseas is usually adjusted and transformed into something of their own, not to mention each region puts its personal stamp on it. The same goes with Halloween, which is clearly not an American affair here. It doesn’t have the pomp and hype as in the US, but rather a traditional feel which sets it apart from most European countries.
Better known as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead or All Souls Day), Halloween in Spain is a three-day celebration that kicks off on October 31st with Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), continues with Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st, and culminates with Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd.
Far from being a commercial holiday, the Spanish Halloween is all about honoring the dead and celebrating the continuity of life. Accordingly, specific customs and rituals can be observed throughout the country, most of them similar with those in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations. For instance, during the Dia de Todos los Santos, which is a public holiday, many families tend to gather at the grave of their deceased relatives with holy water, flowers, food, and drink in order to rejoice and socialize.
Halloween in Galicia
In Northern Spain, due to the Celtic traditions that still prevail in the area, Halloween is celebrated with more enthusiasm than in the rest of the country. In Galicia, a region famous for its rich local folklore and ghost legends, the night of 31st of October is known as Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) and is celebrated through a range of common activities such as pumpkin carving, costume parties, bonfires, rituals, and sometimes even trick-or-treating.
A special feature of Halloween in Galicia is the quemada – a strong alcoholic drink usually made from aguardiente, unground coffee, sugar, and lemon rind or orange peels. Traditionally, the quemada is prepared within a pumpkin and consumed after reciting a spell (esconxuro).
Halloween in Barcelona and Catalonia
While Halloween in Spain is mainly observed as a children’s holiday or a spiritual festivity intended to commemorate the dead, throughout the country’s big cities and vibrant university towns you’ll always find clubs, hotels, and restaurants organizing glamorous events and colorful costume parties.
One of these places is Barcelona, where in addition to the sprightly Halloween fiestas held on October 31st in the city’s famous bars and nightclubs, you’ll also have the chance to enjoy the Catalan tradition of La Castanyada. This is a popular All Saints’ Day festival held each year on November 1st in Barcelona and Catalonia, and welcomes visitors with various events, music concerts, and stalls filled with seasonal delicacies, including castanyes (chestnuts), sweet potatoes, sweet wine and panellets – small Catalan cakes made of marzipan, almonds, and various flavors. This autumn fair is also celebrated in Galicia (Magosto) and Asturias (Magüestu).
Another Halloween custom that can be observed in Barcelona is Ruta de Altares (Route of the Altars). In the last couple of years, this relatively new tradition specific to the Mexican Día de los Muertos has become increasingly evident around the city’s streets, bars, restaurants, shops, galleries, and associations.
For an even more authentic Catalan tradition, head to the small village of Sant Feliu Sasserra in the comarca of Bages, where a fascinating two-day Witch Festival is held every year in the honor of the 23 women who were sentenced to death during the Inquisition after being accused of witchcraft.
Locally known as Fira de les Bruixes, the event begins on the night of October 31st in Plaça de l’Església with an esoteric parade that runs through the village’s darkest corners.
On November 1st, All Saints Day finds the town full of dancers, street artists, and stalls offering everything from local delicacies to artisan crafts and tarot services. Sant Feliu Sasserra is also home to a small Witch Museum.
Halloween in Madrid
Just like any other major city in Europe, Madrid greets Halloween with a plethora of exciting events and activities for the whole family, from Halloween pub crawl and flamboyant themed parties organized by the capital’s discos to great entertaining shows held in the main amusement parks.
Some of the most popular Halloween events in Madrid include the annual Choco-Halloween in the Moda Shopping commercial center and the wonderful spectacles happening in the city’s Warner Park and Parque de Atracciones. Moreover, during this time of the year, the city hosts a very special event – Semana Gótica de Madrid (Madrid Gothic Week).
Halloween in Malaga
If the year’s most terrifying night finds you in Malaga, don’t hesitate to visit the gorgeously decorated cemeteries or to attend the city’s annual Zombie March. Already in its fifth edition, this thrilling event is actually a public parade of people dressed up in all sorts of spine-chilling characters, including witches, vampires, zombies, and other creatures of the night. It usually starts in the evening of October 31st in the Plaza de la Constitución, in the heart of Malaga Old Town.
Other Halloween Traditions and Events in Spain
In northern Spain, locals celebrate All Souls Day with some traditional pastries called Huesos de Santo (Bones of the Holy), which they bake and bring to the graves of loved ones.
If you are spending Halloween in Barcelona, make sure to visit the city’s magnificent cemeteries, including Montjuic, Poblenou, and Les Corts, for some special night tours and wonderful classical music concerts.
A wonderful All Saints Day tradition in Alcala de Henares is Las Noches de Don Juan (The Nights of Don Juan). The festival takes place each November (2nd – 30th) and consists of beautiful open-air representations of José Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio.
Although not actually a Halloween celebration, Fiesta de Tosantos is a weird and original festival celebrated on October 31st in Cadiz. Also known as Fiesta de los Mercados, this event full of humor and satire consists of various concerts and street performances held throughout the city, but the highlight is certainly the decoration of the market stalls. Vendors use their merchandise (fruits, vegetables, meat, or fish) to create elaborate displays that depict scenes and characters from the latest financial, political, or social scandals.
Unlike the US, where Halloween costumes are inspired by books, TV shows, and pop culture, people in Spain dress up in all kinds of spooky characters, from ghosts and werewolves to zombies and vampires.