Insights into living overseas : Halloween in Madrid, Spain
For families that are beginning to settle into their overseas experience in Madrid, Halloween can be a fun festival that reassures the whole family that some traditions do indeed cross borders, cultures and languages. Halloween gives new families a chance to show how Halloween is celebrated in their home country by inviting friends over for trick or treat or apple bobbing. Others don costumes and decide to brave the witches, spooks and zombies that roam the capital’s streets and urbanizaciones for one terrifying night.
What to expect over Halloween if you live in Madrid
Whether it is Halloween-themed food, entertainment or scary costumes, the Spanish capital city does not disappoint. Despite some vocal opposition from the Catholic Church in Spain, Spanish families have embraced the more commercial, generically American aspects of Halloween (such as pumpkin carving and trick or treating) whilst also conserving their own traditions wrapped around All Saint’s Day (1st November). Furthermore, keen third culture observers note with some delight that hybrid cultural spin offs have been gaining traction in 21st century Madrid, such as delicious buñuelo mini-doughnuts being offered with sweet pumpkin paste filling, for example, alongside traditional fillings.
Hit or miss school celebrations
With opposition to celebrating Halloween in schools coming from several fronts, it is not uncommon to find that your child’s school decides not to observe Halloween, either because they dismiss it as being an unwelcome American import or because it is goes against traditional Catholic beliefs by celebrating death and darkness rather than life and light. However, since 2010 some parish schools have embraced an idea promoted by the diocese of Alcalá de Henares to celebrate “Holywins” at schools rather than Halloween. Apart from being a clever play on words (which is more striking when voiced by a native Spanish speaker) this idea was the brainchild of a local bishop who wanted to promote the idea of holiness overcoming death, encouraging young children to dress up as saints on Halloween, rather than as ghouls or zombies.
If your school does go along the traditional Halloween route, be prepared for a proliferation of quite startling masks indeed, especially since face painting is now no longer permitted due to Covid19 best practice policies. Costume shops and supermarkets sell a fascinating range of truly ghoulish masks for children as young as three years old. COSTUMES ARE DEFINITELY SCARIER HERE! Take a look here, if you dare. Never fear, the ubiquitous skeleton onesie or cute witch outfit are always in the vicinity too.
Delightful traditional sweets for Spanish All Saint’s Day
Every October the air of Madrid fills with the smell of roasted chestnuts, hailing the beginning of autumn. Shortly afterwards, other seasonal delights adorn traditional Spanish confectioners’ windows and displays. For a limited period of time, small and tempting deep fried dough cakes (buñuelos) are available to purchase by the kilo or dozen from bakeries across the city. These celebration doughnuts are filled with cream custard, whipped cream, coffee cream, chocolate spread, sweet pumpkin paste or fruit compotes. Served as afternoon tea or as a special dessert, your children are sure to enjoy them as much as young madrileños who have grown up with the tradition.
The other popular baked good that pops up at the end of October and again at Easter are the interestingly named saints bones marzipan sweets. These delicious marzipan rolls are filled with sweet egg yolk paste which can be described as resembling bone and marrow. This traditional Spanish sweet is consumed in honour of the dead, in a gesture that celebrates their passing to heavenly life rather than any macabre or cannibalistic suggestions.
Things to do over Halloween:
- If you are interested in Spanish cultural immersion, you would do well to take a trip to Alcalá de Henares on this day. Our neighbouring university town boasts a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest that takes place every 31st of October when the gardens of the archbishop’s palace play host to an open-air staging of the Spanish classic play Don Juan Tenorio. This 19th century play includes undead characters, visions and voices from beyond the grave, with the final scene of this ghostly love story between Don Juan and Doña Inés taking place on All Soul’s Day. Furthermore, some Spanish high schools make the most of the opportunity to put on representations of this classic Romantic play to coincide with Halloween and thus steer school-based activities away from pumpkins, cobwebs and bats.
- Elsewhere in the city, the Mexican cultural centre celebrates the Day of the Dead with a decorative altar to deceased loved ones, whereas the two amusement parks are full of themed attractions to scare and thrill in equal measures. Many language academies make the most of Halloween to introduce American and British culture to their young students with themed parties and pumpkin carving. The best way to find out about these events is to keep an eye on the myriad of parents’ groups on Facebook which serve as a fountain of knowledge of upcoming festivities across the capital.
Steps into Spain top tips for Halloween in Madrid:
- Those families with younger children can go to spooky storytelling events at shopping centres such as La Vaguada.
- Go trick or treating around the Malasaña neighbourhood.
- Sign up to the Halloween-themed art workshops at the Prado Museum (available in English upon request).
- Follow this walking tour of Madrid to see the spookiest buildings in the city and learn about their ghosts here.
- Take a look at this website which is dedicated to professionally organised Halloween events in the capital city.
- Take a look at this family crafting class to learn how to make easy Halloween DIY crafts.
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child.
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Our trusted and expert service is provided to families who are moving to Madrid from abroad. And also, to families that already live here and need some extra guidance and support.