Day of the Dead: Spanish style

Pumpkin by Thomas Backa (Flickr CC)Image credit: Thomas Backa  (Flickr: Creative Commons)

I don’t like Halloween.  Never have.  Never will.

Not for of any particular religious reasons, but simply because it always seemed a pretty pointless exercise to me.

Until I moved to live in Spain.

Although the American-style “ghosts and ghouls” type of Halloween has now started to creep into the Spanish calendar each year, this time of year is celebrated here in a different form, as “El Día de los Muertos” or the “Day of the Dead”.

The festival of Todos los Santos (All Saints´ day) is a national holiday on November 1st each year, when cemeteries are packed with families paying homage to their dead and tending the gravestones of their ancestors by placing fresh flowers and candles.

Tending the graves in Competa cemetery for Todos Los Santos

This is a commemoration for loved ones with nothing ghoulish or scary involved and, thankfully, without commercialism.  

Exactly as it should be.

How do you honour loved ones who have passed away, in your part of the world?


Related articles:

Death in the Afternoon: The Round Cemetery of Sayalonga

The Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life 

The heart of Cómpeta: El Paseo de las Tradiciones



47 thoughts on “Day of the Dead: Spanish style

  1. halloween is an opportunity to dress as someone you are not. It can be fun and carefree. Los dias is an opportunity to commemorate those we loved who hav died. They both are different and have their place.

  2. I learned about the Day of the Dead initially from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, and although many cemeteries in Australia are well tended our culture doesn’t have that immediate engagement of others.
    My way of remembering is through the few possessions I have passed down to me by family members, stories and memories and food from my childhood that I still make reminding of times, places and people past 🙂

    • Haven’t read that book, EllaDee – I’ll have to put it on my (very long) list! Thanks.

      The wonderful thing about memories is, that no matter what, no-one can take them away from you. 🙂

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Kathryn. I was just saying to a previous commenter (Eduardo) that it’s good that we all like different things.

      How boring would it be if we all liked or wanted exactly the same?

      Have a great day – whatever you choose to do. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful way to honour and revere those loved ones who’ve passed on, Marianne. I think every country should have this national day.
    Thank you so much for the postcard from Aberystwyth. You do get around. 🙂

  4. I don’t like Halloween either. It’s way too commercialized and I’ve never enjoyed being frightened. I walked the Camino de Santiago this year in honor of my father, who was a Lover of Spain and always told us that it was the “Madre Patria”. I’m glad I did as I thought of him a lot while walking and it’s nice to remember.

    • What a lovely way to remember your father. I can well imagine that you thought of him a lot during your walk. I’ve heard tales of many people who have completed The Way saying it has changed their lives.

      How far did you walk? How long did it take you? Was it what you expected? I’m considering walking the final 100 kilometres for charity, next year 🙂

      • The Camino was all that I expected and more! It was a dream of mine come true. I walked 790 kilometers (500 miles) in 35 days of actual walking. I spent and additional 5 days resting or recovering from injuries. I met and walked with people from all over the world and was invited to Vigo at the end by Spanish friends for a week on their beautiful beaches. I’ll also be visiting friends in Melbourne next Spring! I highly recommend it because you will see great beauty in the countryside and the people you meet.

  5. First sunday in november back in my old homeland Denmark is All Saints Day – where the churches commemorate those who have died during the year by the priest from the pulpit mention all of the parish – who have died in the past year… 🙂

    Very well captured photos… 🙂

  6. They do pretty much the same thing here except not at Hallowe’en – it’s in summer. Families go to the graves of loved ones, tidy them up, place flowers, have a picnic, sing, dance etc. Hallowe’en isn’t big here at all – although I have seen a few tots with face paint so I give it another 5 years or so!

    • Our weather is still lovely here, even on November 1st, Linda – so it would be too hot to do it in summer. Good idea in cooler countries, though 🙂

      I’m so disappointed that Hallowe’en is taking off here – just as I hate it that McDonalds and Starbucks are springing up. We have brilliant fast food in Spain – it’s called TAPAS and they make great coffee in any Spanish bar around these parts that costs about ONE euro per cup 🙂

  7. I agree with you to – I loathe the idea of Halloween. Am in the UK right now and (stupidly) answered a ring at the door a few minutes ago only to find three young people in horrible masks screaming at me. I don’t know them, they don’t know me – bascially they’re asking a complete stranger (from the safety of their own home) to give them money or sweets or they’ll carry on trying to frighten me. What’s that all about then? I much prefer the idea of All Saints and All Souls – El Dia de los Santos y El Dia de los Difuntos and paying our respects to those loved and lost.

    • I’ve never understood it either, Tanya. I feel sorry for old people, living on their own who might be fearful to either answer the door or of reprisals if they don’t (or can’t) hand over money or sweets.

  8. Another American here. Totally get your post. While I haven’t gotten excited over Halloween since I was a kid and don’t have a strong anti-Halloween spirit, very few get the fact that the holiday is the eve of All Saint’s Day. I love the idea of putting fresh flowers out in memory of those we love. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ramona. You’re right, of course – most people don’t understand the significance of the date – besides, it’s been hijacked these days.

      Like you, I’m not a mean-spirited person, but I just don’t GET Halloween. Some of the costumes are totally gross and outrageous. Anyway – rant over 🙂

      Just prefer how it is celebrated here, though I guess within 20 years it will be just the same in Spain, too.


  9. When I was young, I don’t ever remember celebrating Halloween – certainly not in my hometown of Brighton & Hove – maybe it was different in small towns and villages of the UK. Later, however, (not sure whether it was the 70s or 80s) yet another insidious American custom was imported from across the Atlantic which was (a) an excuse for shops to make more money by selling Halloween related items and (b) for spoiled children to have an excuse to bother their local neighbourhood with “Trick or Treat” and to carry out some act of vandalism if any householder was foolish enough to not give them money. In principle, Spain’s ‘Day of the Dead’ followed by ‘All Saints’ Day’ is a much more relevant celebration, where the idea is to commemorate ‘loved-ones’ who have passed away. However, commercialism here seems just as rampant as in the UK and, during the last couple of years, some neighbours have suffered minor vandalism with raw eggs splattered on their windows.

    • Sadly, you’re right, Robert.

      I don’t think the commercialism is as bad here as in the UK – but it’s much more than it was even just a couple of years ago. 😦

  10. Funny. Before I got to that point in your blog, I was thinking “just as it should be”. Visits, flowers, prayers here. Just as it should be. I just wish more people would honor the living as much as they do the dead. Everyone seems to have been a wonderful person, after they’re gone. How about now? 🙂
    Happy November. 🙂

  11. Reblogged this on Sewalife and commented:
    Don´t have much time to sew lately. I thought you´d like to know how we celebrate All Saints Day here in Spain.
    And don´t forget to be happy with those that are still here! 🙂

  12. I had a baby to commemorate my father’s death. My darling girl was born on the 28th anniversary of my father’s death, also the day of the dead. and I just learned that he died on a Monday….and she was born on a Monday!! weird huh?

    okay obviously this is an isolated case of commemorating loved ones who have passed on….but tomorrow is a big day in my life! always has been, always will be.

  13. I love these cemeteries Marianne, and that’s a great photo. The Tossa de Mar cemetery is a lovely peaceful haven, and right next to the busy bus station, but hardly anyone seems to go there except for families looking after their loved ones. I’ve spent many an hour just sitting in there.

    • I just love cemeteries, Elaine. Always try to visit them wherever we are – and I agree, there’s hardly anyone else there whenever I go.

      There’s a great cemetery in Malaga known as The English Cemetery – have you been?

  14. Where I come from, we also congregate round the graves, but it’s a more sombre affair. People often go out into the woods the day before to collect moss, which is used to decorate the graves, creating a green, velvety “carpet”. Flowers (e.g. white and read carnations) are laid on top.

  15. i agree entirely with el dla del los meurtos. where i live we have cemetry mass at a warmer time of the year to remember our dead.we can also go to church on all saints day. unfortunately this period is now driven commercially and is losing its spiritual significance.

    • It’s different in the US though, Cat. You grew up with it, so you’re bound to miss it. It’s such a big thing there, isn’t it? I guess Todos los Santos is a big thing here, too – but in a much more respectful and refined way.

      The treats are a different matter though 🙂

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