Day of the Dead in Spain

Día de los Muertos, also known as “Día de los Fieles Difuntos” or “El Día de Todos los Santos” in Spain, are the days when people in Spain commemorate the dead. Although it shares the same Catholic origin as the famous Mexican holiday, the way it is celebrated in Spain is quite different.

In this blog post, we’ll cover all you need to know about the unique Spanish customs, highlighting the similarities and differences that contribute to the cultural heritage of both countries.

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We travel across Spain in our motorhome, Speedy, and update TravelSpain24 with fresh content, practical tips, and personal stories from the road. Our goal is to help you experience Spain beyond the typical tourist trails.

Does Spain celebrate the Day of the Dead?

Goat skulls for terrifying decoration, Halloween detail

Yes, Spain celebrates the Day of the Dead, but the holiday is more focused on religious traditions. It is marked by more somber and reflective customs, rather than the vibrant festivities seen in Mexico.

The origins of Día de los Muertos

Adorable zombies in flower wreaths posing on white background. Happy family with Halloween creative makeup. Girls celebrating Mexican Day of the Dead.

The history of Día de Muertos can be traced back thousands of years to the Aztec, Toltec, and Nahua people of ancient Mexico, who believed that mourning the dead was disrespectful, preferring to celebrate life instead. Now in Mexico, the historical and cultural roots of the holiday are seen in its vibrant and colorful celebrations, which include offerings, altars, and lively processions.

When Does Spain Celebrate the Day of the Dead?

In Spain, the people honor the dead over several days, and they each have different traditions. In the next section, we will explore these various celebrations, giving you a clearer picture of how the Spanish remember their deceased loved ones.

31 October: Día de las Brujas, Halloween and Castanyada

A plate with roasted sweet potato, some roasted chestnuts, and some panellets, a typical confection of Catalonia, Spain,

On October 31st, both Día de las Brujas (day of the witches) and Halloween is observed, with costumes and gatherings becoming more popular in recent years.

The popularity of Halloween has gained momentum in Spain, and the traditions of the Día de las Brujas have evolved to include elements of the more modern international Halloween customs. Today, it is common for children to go trick-or-treating, and attend parties and parades held across the country. The Spanish dress up as witches, ghosts, or other spooky characters to embrace the holiday spirit.

Chestnuts roasted in the chimney and smoking.Celebrating the "Castanyada, Castañada" a typical dish and tradition of Catalonia, Spain, on All Saints Day.

La Castanyada, a Catalan tradition, also takes place on this day, enjoying roasted chestnuts, panellets which are sweet almond pastries, and sweet wine called muscatel. In other parts of Spain, it’s referred to as “Magosto, Magosta, or Magüestu” and the celebrations are quite similar.

1 November: Todos los Santos (All Saints Day)

November 1st is dedicated to celebrating El Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day), as opposed to the Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) observed in Mexico and some other Latin American countries on November 1st and 2nd. Its roots come from the Catholic Church. All Saints Day is a time to honor all of the Saints and pay tribute to deceased family members by placing flowers on their graves.

2 November: Día de los Fieles Difuntos

Details of tombs and burial niches in formation of several floors adorned with typical flowers of traditional Spanish cemeteries, in the local cemetery of the city of Mataro, Barcelona.

On November 2nd, the Día de los Fieles Difuntos (Day of the Faithful Deceased) is observed. This is not an officially recognized holiday in Spain. However, it is still widely recognized by families who visit the graves of their loved ones, decorating them with flowers and lighting candles to pay their respects.

How do you celebrate the Día de los Muertos in Spain?

Portrait of three little girls in Halloween costumes

Día de los Muertos in Spain is marked by various events and practices. Let’s go over each part of these customs in more detail below.

Cemetery Visits

One of the most common ways to honor the dead in Spain is by visiting their graves at cemeteries. During this time, the Spanish usually clean and decorate their relatives’ gravestones with flowers, candles, and wreaths. Families normally attend special church services and pray for the departed souls.

Traditional Dishes

Huesos de Santo, typical pastries of Spain, eaten on All Saints Day

On this occasion, families often prepare and enjoy traditional dishes like panellets, which are small almond-based pastries, and Huesos de Santo, which are sweets shaped like bones and filled with marzipan. These treats are shared among relatives and friends, strengthening the bond between the living and the deceased.

Don Juan Tenorio

Don Juan Tenorio in Alcalá scene of doña Inés and don Juan

In some parts of Spain, like the city of Toro in Zamora, it is customary to stage a theatrical performance of Don Juan Tenorio on All Saints’ Day. This classic Spanish play, by José Zorrilla, tells a tragic love story intertwined with death, redemption, and resurrection themes. The play Don Juan Tenorio, with its sad love story and themes of death, redemption, and resurrection, represents Spain’s cultural perspective on death and the afterlife.

Regional Variations

There are also regional variations in how people celebrate the Day of the Dead in Spain. For example, in Galicia, All Saints’ Day coincides with another celebration called Magosto, which marks the beginning of the chestnut harvest. Here Galicians often enjoy roasted chestnuts along with other typical seasonal foods.

Comparison with Mexican Traditions

Colorful candy sugar skulls with flowers on Day of the Dead festival in Mexico.

As we explore the Día de los Muertos celebrations in Spain, we must compare them with their Mexican counterparts. Both traditions stem from the same roots but have evolved differently in each country, showcasing unique cultural aspects.

ToneSomber and reflectiveColorful and lively
ActivitiesVisiting cemeteries, cleaning and decorating gravesAltars, parades, music, and dancing
SymbolismRemembrance and mourningCelebration of life and death

These descriptions capture the key aspects, and it’s important to recognize that both traditions reflect the individual customs and beliefs of the respective countries. How communities in Spain and Mexico observe Día de los Muertos demonstrates a wide spectrum of emotions, events, and symbolism associated with reminiscing about loved ones who have passed away.

Conclusion: Día de los Muertos, Spain

Spain has its own distinct way of celebrating the Día de los Muertos. While it’s called El Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Spain’s version is more accurately called El Día de Todos los Santos, and Día de los Fieles Difuntos. The holiday occurs from October 31st until November 2nd and originates in the Catholic Church.

It’s quite different from Mexico. Spain focuses more on commemorating saints’ lives and laying flowers on the graves of loved ones. In both countries, the holiday serves as a way for families to remember and honor their ancestors and deceased relatives. Each region in Spain and Mexico has unique ways of incorporating its own local traditions and customs into Día de los Muertos celebrations.

This holiday beautifully balances solemnity with festivity and allows us to reflect on the connections between life and death.

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