How Do They Celebrate Halloween in Spanish-Speaking Countries?
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays in the world with roots in ancient festivals and rituals. People still celebrate Halloween in many Spanish-speaking countries around the globe, including Spain and much of Latin America. Then as now, the festivities included bonfires, feasts, and costumes.
This post is all about Halloween in Spanish! But first, let’s take a look at the origin of the holiday itself.
A Brief History of Halloween
Halloween originated as the Samhain (“summer’s end”) festival of the Celts, a people that populated much of Europe and the UK about 3,000 years ago. Experts believe Samhain was a day to both celebrate the autumn harvest and honor the dead. It’s likely that the ancient Celtic Druids performed human sacrifice to the Lord of the Dead, who is also called Samhain. They lit bonfires for protection against ghosts and witches.
It’s even possible that the Celts engaged in an ancient version of trick-or-treating! People may have worn animal skins as disguises and served elaborate banquets for hungry ghosts. The Celtic new year started on November 1. They believed that on the night of October 31, the lines blurred between the living and dead, allowing ghosts to visit earth.
How Halloween Got Its Name
After the Romans conquered the Celts, Samhain became intermingled with two Roman holidays. The first is Feralia, which both commemorates the dead and honors Pomona, the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. Second, the Catholic church designated November 1 as All Saints Day, which is a day to remember saints and martyrs. This holiday was also known as “All Hallows,” so the night before became “All Hallows Eve” and, eventually, “Halloween.”
Halloween in Modern Times
In modern Latin America and Spain, most Spanish-speaking people celebrate Día de Todos Santos (All Souls’ Day) on November 2, finalizing a three-day celebration that begins on October 31. Families create altars with flowers, photos, and jars of water to remember their dead loved ones. They also place the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks on the altar.
Halloween in Spanish-Speaking Countries
Halloween is gaining popularity throughout Latin America. The U.S. version of Halloween has blown up in the past few decades. Companies eager to sell candy and costumes, as well as TV shows like Los Simpson and Plaza Sesame have led to this phenomenon. Younger Latinx use Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube to share their costumes and celebrations.
What’s different about Halloween in Spanish-speaking countries? Let’s take a look!
Mexico celebrates Halloween with disguises and trick-or-treating. Villages organize parades, and people dressed as skeletons dance in the streets. You might even see a group of coffin bearers parade a live person inside a casket through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers, and candies into it.
The Día de los Muertos festivities begin right after Halloween. Families prepare intricate feasts, loaves of pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and other foods with skull motifs. People also attend candlelight ceremonies in church and offer prayers. The entire Mexican celebration of death is actually about life, from beginning to end.
In Chile, Halloween is a celebration involving witches, pumpkins, trick-or-treating, and costume parties. Children disguise themselves to play and ask for sweets. If you don’t give them candy, beware! They’re likely to do some mischief. Chileans celebrate the holiday in homes and in schools. It’s an occasion to have fun, watch horror movies, and eat sweets.
In Peru, especially the littlest children in schools celebrate Halloween. It’s a day full of pumpkins, spider webs, and candy. Costumes are an important part of celebrations, of course—but with a twist. While in the U.S. orange and black are traditional colors of Halloween, in Peru many people dress in purple throughout October. It is not uncommon to hear children chanting “Halloween, Halloween, Halloween” on doorsteps, but you won’t hear the term “trick-or-treat.”
In Bogota, the Halloween celebrations include giant parties with imaginative costumes. Cali hosts an annual “Moto Halloween Party” where motorcyclists dress in costume and motor throughout the city.
It’s not exactly Halloween, but in Cartagena on November 1, children go out to ask for food from the neighbors. They sing songs such as “Angels we are, from heaven we come, begging for ourselves. Aguardiente and rum pa ‘Marcelo. Brandy and wine for Marcellin.”
Most Bolivians aren’t aware of the meaning of Halloween, so it’s a night of unabashed commercialism. Local kids dress in full costume and walk around collecting candy. As with anywhere in the world, you’ll find plenty of U.S. expats decked out in wild outfits. The locals tend to stick to dressing up as more traditional witches and monsters.
Finally, Spain indulges in a three-day celebration similar to Latin America with Halloween followed by All Saints’ Day, and Day of the Dead. Celtic traditions still prevail in the north of Spain, compelling them to celebrate Halloween with extra enthusiasm. Galicia is famous for its colorful local folk tales and ghost stories. On October 31, the city celebrates Noche de Calabazas (Night of the Pumpkins) with pumpkin carving, costume parties, bonfires, ceremonies, and trick-or-treating.
Halloween in Spanish: Vocabulary Words
“Halloween” translates as Noche de Brujas, though many people just say the English word “Halloween” (pronounced as a Spanish speaker would say jalogüin). In addition to Noche de Brujas, which literally means Witches’ Night, people also refer to the holiday as Día de Brujas, or Witches’ Day.
Now that you know all about Halloween in Spanish-speaking countries, it’s time to learn some fun Halloween-related vocabulary words and phrases in Spanish! You can use these words to make flash cards or mini-posters to label. Write sentences using the words and practice saying them. Enjoy learning about Halloween in Spanish!
- el disfraz – costume
- la araña – spider
- la bruja – witch
- la calabaza – pumpkin
- los caramelos, los dulces – candies
- la calavera – skull
- el duende – goblin
- el esqueleto – skeleton
- el fantasma – ghost
- el gato negro – black cat
- la tumba – grave
- el hechicero – warlock
- el horror – horror
- el hombre lobo – werewolf
- la lámpara de calabaza – Jack-o-lantern
- la maquillaje – makeup
- la máscara – mask
- la momia – mummy
- el monstruo – monster
- el murciélago – bat
- el necrófago – ghoul
- el vampire – vampiro
- el/la zombi – zombie
- aterrador – scary
- óscuro/a – dark
- gigante – giant
- misterioso/a – mysterious
- embrujado – haunted
- travieso/a – mischievous
- espeluznante – creepy, spooky
- viscoso/a – slimy
- sangriento/a – bloody
- escalofriante – chilling
- siniestros – sinister
- hacer un truco, gastar una broma (a alguien) – play a trick
- asustar, dar miedo – to scare
- sorprender – to surprise
- festejar – to party
- celebrar – to celebrate
- bailar – to dance
- tener miedo (de) – to be afraid (of)
- tallar una calabaza – to carve a pumpkin
- to dress up as – disfrazar como
- rondar – to haunt
- tocar a la puerta – to knock on the door
- tocar el timbre – to ring the doorbell
- gritar – to scream
- truco o trato – trick or treat (The English phrase is often used, as well. A truco is a trick. The word trato normally refers to a contract or agreement, although it can mean “treatment,” as in how one person treats another. Another way to say trick-or-treat in Spanish is “dulce o travesura.”)
¡Feliz Noche de Brujas!
What are your favorite Halloween traditions? Have you ever experienced the holiday in Spain or Latin America? Leave me a comment and tell me what else you know about Halloween in Spanish-speaking countries!
Want to learn more about Latin American and Spanish cultures? Check out these posts!
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