Halloween in Spain: From Celtic Rituals to Zombie Walks

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 for 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.

Halloween in Spain

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 (Day of the Dead) 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 to those in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations. For instance, during the Dia de Todos los Santos, which is a public holiday, many families gather at the grave of their deceased relatives with holy water, flowers, food, and drink in order to rejoice and socialize.

From Galicia to Andalusia, let’s have a look at how Halloween is celebrated throughout Spain:

Halloween in Galicia

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 October 31st is known as Noite dos Calacús (Night of the Pumpkins) and is celebrated with related activities like 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 beans, 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

Halloween Party in Barcelona
Photo by Martí Mayans | via CDLC Barcelona

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.

La Castanyada, Barcelona

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 such as 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).

Also, if you are spending Halloween in Barcelona, make sure you visit the city’s magnificent cemeteries, including Montjuïc, Poblenou, and Les Corts, for some special night tours and wonderful classical music concerts.

Cemetery night tour
Photo via CEMENTIRIS DE BARCELONA – Cementiris és cultura

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 popular 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.

Witch Festival, Catalonia
Photo via Fira de les Bruixes

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

Halloween in Madrid
Photo via Facebook/MarchaZombieAlcala

Just like any other major city in Europe, Madrid greets Halloween with a plethora of exciting events and activities for the whole family, from 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 crazy Halloween Pub Crawl (starting in Plaza Mayor), the wonderful spectacles happening in the city’s Warner Park and Parque de Atracciones, as well as HalloWANTS – an electronic music festival taking place in nearby Leganes.

And, if you don’t mind a 40 min train trip, the vibrant university town of Alcalá de Henares puts on a killer zombie march featuring drummers and dancing in the street, all sorts of scary creatures, as well as a professionally choreographed flash mob.

Halloween in Málaga

Halloween in Malaga

If the year’s most terrifying night finds you in Málaga, don’t hesitate to visit the gorgeously decorated cemeteries.

Unfortunately, the city’s infamous Zombie March is long gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still partake in other frightening celebrations. For example, both the English Cemetery and the Botanical Garden organize themed events, and there’s also a Halloween fair called Pechá Zombies Party in the port.

While here, take a walk along Málaga’s most festive street, Calle Larios, to admire the creative Halloween windows displays, and definitely don’t miss the trendy Soho district, where lots of themed workshops and activities for the whole family are held.

Halloween in Cádiz

Fiesta de Tosantos, Cadiz
Photo via Facebook/mercadocentradecadiz

Although not actually a Halloween celebration, Fiesta de Tosantos is a weird and original festival celebrated on October 31st in Cádiz.

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. The highlight, however, is 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.

Halloween in San Sebastian

San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival
Photo via Beldurrezko Astea – Semana Terror Donostia

Halloween in San Sebastian coincides with the annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, which, in addition to cinema, brings lots of concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances to the city’s elegant streets.

Established in 1990 by the San Sebastian Municipal Board of Culture, the festival will delight the audience with a special horror and fantasy film session at Teatro Principal, as well as lots of interesting animation, shorts, and classics screenings every day. Most of the public events take place in the Old Town.

Other Halloween Traditions and Events in Spain

Huesos de Santo

In northern Spain, locals celebrate All Souls Day with some traditional pastries called Huesos de Santo (Bones of the Holy), which they bring to the graves of loved ones along with flowers.

A wonderful All Saints Day tradition in Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid, 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.

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.