Halloween in Spain vs. USA: Do I Dare Compare?



It’s my second Halloween here in Spain, and I can’t help but to notice: Is it just me, or is Halloween growing like a rapid-fire? Of course, I was in a tiny village last year, and this year I am living in bustling Madrid. And, double of course, Madrid is going to celebrate a littttle more extravagantly than my 5,000 person village. However, I’ve talked with some friends dispersed throughout Spain, including my friends back in “my pueblo,” and the verdict is the same: Halloween is taking over Spain. Watch out España…the goblins are comin’ for ya!

And if you ask me, why wouldn’t Spain want in on the action?! A day where you get to dress up like a complete freak (and it’s actually socially acceptable), eat as much candy as your body and pants button can withstand, knock on strangers doors and beg for chocolate, and PARTAY.

However, now that this is my round-two of Spanish Halloween, I can’t help to observe the cultural differences in this spooky celebration. And laugh a bit. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

The Costumes.

Last Halloween, I went to work dressed up as a cowgirl (ok, one of the lamer costumes I’ve ever put together…but all my fun stuff was back in the states!). I walked into my fifth grade class, and immediately got scolded by my kids. “Profe, no pareces de miedo!! Una caballera no me asusta!!!!” Translation? “Teach, you don’t look scary! A cowgirl doesn’t scare me!” Well, excuseeee meee kids, but last time I checked Halloween was a FREE holiday! Meaning, if I wanna dress up like the sugar fairy, I can. Or at least, in America.

Here in Spain, the understanding is that Halloween is meant for dressing scary. Which, is what Halloween was intended for, right? Witches with bloody faces, zombies, goblins, ghosts…they are all the “in” costumes for Halloween here in Spain. If you’re not dressed as something that looks like it came straight out of a horror movie, you’re confused on what day of the year it is. Whether you are an 8-year-old prancing the streets in a Sleepy Hollow costume, or a college student dressed as an evil witch, one thing is for sure: You ain’t dressin’ to look “attractive.”

In the US, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. I don’t know at what point in history the traditionally “horrifying” Halloween evolved into a ridiculous costume parade in America…but it has. It’s rare that you walk down the streets of NYC on Halloween and see ghosts and goblins kickin’ it on street corners. Instead, Americans have adopted Halloween into an American equivalent to the Spanish Carnaval. The funnier the costume, the more likely you are to win “the best costume of the day” award.

But it totally depends on age. Let’s take a look at the cultural differences between the age groups, shall we?

The babies (Ages 1-4). American parents turn their adorable little munchkins into cute little pumpkins, green stem hats and all. Spanish babies? Well, they are still just plain old adorable Spanish babies.

Original edited via Flickr @James Willcox

The kiddies (Age 5-11). Little American girls are dressing up as their fave Disney Princess, and little boys are rockin’ their fave superhero. Little Spanish girls and boys? Zombies and witches.

Original Edited via Flickr @Joe Lewish
Original Edited via Flickr @Joe Lewish

The preteens (Ages 12-15). Teeny-boppers in America are wearing hippie costumes, Starbucks cups and Justin Bieber garb. Spanish preteens? Zombies and witches.

The Teens (Ages 16- 18). This is the dangerous age in America. Every parents dreads it, and every teenager awaits it; the age when kids are “too cool” for trick or treating, and instead start going to Halloween parties. What does this mean? Candy is replaced with illegal beer, every girl’s belly button is exposed, and no guys are wearing shirts. The typical costume? Teenage girls are naughty bunnies, and guys are boxers, greek Gods…any character that doesn’t have a shirt. Now, Spanish teens? Zombies and witches.NAUGHTY BUNNY

The young adults (Ages 19-23). Oh, America. You never cease to amaze me. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. American girls are whatever pop icon figure you can find with the least clothing, and guys are “comical” (or offensive?) replicas of Obama, an oversized banana, a cross dresser, a life size gum ball machine (Yes, that’s right. I said gum ball machine. I’ve seen it all.)…Or just anything slightly obnoxious, really. Young adults in Spain? Yep…zombies and witches.Untitled design (13)

The adults (Ages 24- On). American adults gain back their sanity. Appropriate movie icons, legendary singers, jolly fruit costumes…all family friendly. Spanish adults? Well, if they are modern and into the whole Halloween thing…zombies and witches.

Origninal edited via Flickr @Kyle Nishioka
Origninal edited via Flickr @Kyle Nishioka

Maybe it’s the fact that Spain has Carnaval to let out their wildly ridiculous side, and all America has is Halloween? IDK, what do you think, world…

The Sweets

In the US, weeks before Halloween is even a blip on the calendar, stores are starting to sell pumpkin-spiced everything. Pumpkin spiced ice cream? Check. Pumpkin spice cream cheese? Got it. Pumpkin spice yogurt? Why not! Come the end of October, about 80% of Starbucks customers are ordering the ever-famous pumpkin spiced latte, and moms are busy in the kitchen baking pumpkin pie (MMMmmmMM how I’d LOVE a pumpkin pie right now…). Pumpkin takes over THE WORLD. Muahahahahah (evil laugh).

Original edited Via Flickr @Mike Mozart

Of course, there’s not just pumpkin flavored everything. There’s the typical “candy corn,” ghosts shaped as marshmallows (aka “Peeps”), and every typical American candy brand re-marked with ghosts and spiders on the packaging.

What does Halloween in America really mean? If you guessed $$$$$$$$$, you are right.

Here in Spain, there’s the absolute scruuumptious baked treat, called Huesos de Santos, that are meant to look like little orange-filled bones of “Saints.” They are all natural, beyond delicious, and made with love by a baker. And no, there is no sign advertising them out the baker’s window.HUESOS DE SANTO, TE QUIERO.

Processed Halloween food in Spain? Heck no. Big flashy orange advertisements on every food product and every supermarket? Nope. Only in America.

Trick or Treat

In America, trick or treat is the traditional way for all kiddies to celebrate the big, anticipated H-day (and hey, if you ask me, who says you need to be a kid! Come on, I’d never pass up free candy 😉 ). How does it work? Kids hop from house to house with their big, oversized “pumpkin” candy bag, knock on their neighbors door, and yell “trick or treat!!” Then, they get to pick from a big, massive bowl of all sorts of yummy-licious American candy (Reeses, Kit Kats, Smarties….Mmmm).

Original edited via Flickr @Mandy Lackey
Original edited via Flickr @Mandy Lackey

In Spain, the trend is slowwwly starting to pick up. However, what I’ve noticed is that instead of kids hopping to from house to house, they are hopping from cafe and store font to cafe and storefront. Generally, Spanish cafes and stores are in the center of a Spanish city or plaza, where all the excitement goes down. If you ask me, it’s another reflection of  Spain turning Halloween into a “community centered” fiesta.

The bottom line?

I adore Halloween, and it’s definitely not the same celebrating it here. However, I’ve got to respect Spain’s interpretation of the spooky, sweet holiday! And maybe…just maybe I’ll do it the Spanish way and dress up as a zombie (or a witch) this year. But we’ll see…

If Halloween keeps growing at this rate, I can only imagine what the Spanish interpretation of Halloween is going to be in years to come! What are your thoughts? If you haven’t, would you like to experience Halloween in Spain or the USA? What are your thoughts on the cultural differences?!

See the Spanish version in El Pais.

6 thoughts on “Halloween in Spain vs. USA: Do I Dare Compare?

  1. I’m Spanish and I’ve been living abroad in Europe. We had the same issue last year when Europeans all dressed up with “scary” things and Americans with random costumes. In my opinion it actually makes sense given that the average Spaniard has at least one or two other celebrations during the year in which use normal (not scary) costumes. In my case (I’m Valencian) in Carnaval and in Fallas there I usually have (or had) two moments in which there was a celebration in which to wear costumes. Not mentioning if I decided to go to the Carnavales of Rafelbunyol or Pego. For us, Halloween becomes another costumes party in which the theme is specific (pumpkins, vampires, zombies and witches).

  2. I am from Spain, Barcelona and Halloween is nowadays a completely madness ( in the good way). My two girls want to dress customs like Monster High School or like the zombies that I have in a boardgame, watch terrorific movies, eat a million pounds of chocolate and scary her mama when she is over her mind.
    I love this way which you, the americans, want to introduce some Spanish fiestas there in América like San Fermín or La Tomatina and viceversa we try to celebrate this amazing parade like ours.
    To finish I must to say that we love the terror-scary movies, if you don’t believe me, ask Alejandro Amenabar
    Un saludo

  3. hola soy Rodolfo y soy español. En el norte de España que es zona celta, ya antes de que se pusiera de moda Halloween, ya existían fiestas parecidas, no es una costumbre USA es una costumbre Celta.

  4. Hi! I’m spanish too, and of course my family and I dress up in scary costumes!!!

    it’s way too funny, we leave the random costumes for carnaval

    fyi this year in my house we had a devil-skeleton, a cat and yes.. a witch!. But there was variety in the streets, for example i saw a few katrionas and 3 years ago no one even knew her

    i really really love halloween (but in the scary way) and same as you, i have also noticed more people are celebrating it!! YAY!!

    One year come to Villafranca del Castillo


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