Our expat family’s tips for enjoying the spookiest night of the year even while living abroad.
If you don’t already know, Halloween is my favorite!! That crisp chill in the air, the rustling of freshly fallen leaves at your feet and the smell of a crackling outdoor fire nearby. So when we moved to Barcelona to become expats and realized Halloween isn’t that big of a deal, I panicked!
How would we recreate a holiday that is growing enormously in the states but is overshadowed in Spain by Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead on November 1)?
Before becoming expats, Halloween in New Jersey was epic! Our neighborhood was filled with hundreds of costume-clad children running from house to house and ringing bells for candy. Of course tons of parents also joined the fun and each year seemed to get more and more creative with their getups!
Annnnd…the decor! OH my goodness, the decor! Front yards transformed into graveyards and creatures so scary lurking from trees, I often closed my eyes when walking by at night. Once the sun went down on Halloween night, parents would gather on one another’s driveways and eat/drink in front of a firepit while little ones enjoyed handing out candy to the “older kids”.
Like I said, Halloween back home was EVERYTHING!
So naturally, when our family decided to relocate our life to Barcelona, “Halloween in Spain” was one of my very first Google searches (before even researching schools for my kids, I’ll shamefully admit ha!)
And to my bewilderment, the city that never sleeps where there is always a buzz and a fiesta….didn’t quite embrace the spookiest night of the year.
Really!? My heart sank.
BUT it was Spain…not America – and accepting new cultural celebrations is what being an expat is all about.
Still, I was determined to keep alive the family traditions of our favorite holiday. And maybe even welcome some new ones in the process.
How to Celebrate Halloween in Barcelona as an Expat
Our First Year…
Our first Halloween in Barcelona was only two months after arriving. So naturally, our heads were spinning. I was still trying to figure out where to find non-IKEA furniture and dryer sheets, let alone locate costumes, trick or treating events and pumpkins!
We settled on pale orange flat gourds, last minute over-priced costume purchases and threw together a small class party with some friends at a nearby playground. Meh!
Was it the American Halloween we were so accustomed to? Course not! But it served its purpose, the kids were happy…..and next year would be different, I hoped!
Fast Forward Three Years…
Now that we’ve had a three whole years under our American belts, I’ve actually noticed Barcelona slowwwwwly embracing Halloween!
The first signs were paper banners and white cob webs hanging from several bakeries. I gasped when I first spotted them!
A nearby gourmet chocolate shop decked out their window display in orange and black ghosts. I got giddy with excitement and knew a cultural change was in the making!
Then I learned about an amazing community of American expats that gathered together on Halloween around the Turo Parc area and did trick-or-treating with their kids at nearby stores. It started several years ago…
What began as a handful of stores turned years later into thousands of children, and more than 50 participating retailers. Charitable organizations and even some of the international schools setup tables surrounding the park and get decked out for the big night.
What an awesome surprise this was! And we’ve enjoyed this event at Turo Parc every year since first discovering it.
**Due to COVID-19, the Halloween events at Turo Parc will be cancelled in 2020.
The Best Halloween Surprise of All
Then we learned about a theme park called Port Adventura near Tarragona, Spain that was rumored to do Halloween BIG! I was very skeptical, but we gathered costumes and quickly committed to a family overnight trip.
I thought to myself, “Well, I’m sure they’ll have some pumpkin decorations.”
To our complete amazement, this place was Halloween on STEROIDS!!!!! It blew my mind – the decorations, music, costumes, face painting, shows, theatrics, horror. My senses were in overdrive and that familiar feeling I remember from Halloween at home came flooding back.
It all gave me such a rewarding feeling….to know that our lives in a foreign city, as much as they have changed, can still enjoy the same beloved joys of a holiday from home.
Port Adventura Halloween 2019
Port Adventura Halloween 2018
Where to Find Halloween Costumes & Treats
In Barcelona, you have to go on a little bit of a hunt to find proper Halloween costumes and candy such as individually wrapped sweets and mini candy bars. The following stores have been known to sell both perfect for dressing up and trick-or-treating.
I’ve included the most city-centric locations, but these stores also have multiple spots throughout Barcelona.
Party Fiesta – Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 6 – Large selection of costumes, accessories, face paints, wigs, and candy. If Halloween is approaching and you haven’t yet figured out what to dress up as, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here!
DRIM – Carrer d’Arago, 241 – Typically a toy store, DRIM also offers a small selection of costumes and candy, plastic pumpkins for trick-or-treating and accessories.
HEMA – Carrer de Pelai, 52 – Mostly decor and candy, some minimal costume accessories.
Tiger Store – Carrer Comtal, 32 – Mostly decor and candy, some minimal costume accessories.
El Corte Ingles – Placa de Catalunya, 14 – Most of their anchor stores have specific displays for Halloween stocked with candy, costumes, props, decor and more. Supplies run out quickly so be sure to get there early in October.
What About Pumpkins?!
I’m half kidding when I say, I’ve earned a PhD in pumpkins here. After scouring the internet year after year for pumpkin stands and pumpkin patches, I’ve come to the stark conclusion – there are NONE!
The popular “you pick” farms back home are not a thing here. Patches are replaced with vineyards – nothing to complain about guys. BUT, it’s still possible to find a perfect little orange jack-o-lantern before Halloween and right here in the city.
Your best bet is the famous La Boqueria Market on La Rambla. It is the one and only place I have seen true Halloween carving pumpkins for sale. Some people claim to have purchased pumpkins at El Corte Ingles or Mercadona, but last year neither one of these stores carried them. So it’s a hit or miss!
Don’t get overly excited about their size. These babies are about as big as a cantaloupe – but I stopped being picky years ago when realizing how hard they are to come by in Barcelona. I’ll take what we can find!
If you’re an avid pumpkin carver, like our family, I know what you’re thinking. And the answer is YES, these pumpkins can be carved and produce loads of yummy pumpkin seeds perfect for salting and roasting in the oven! Don’t underestimate them.
Spanish Treats Around Halloween
With ANY holiday, comes special foods! We have simply fallen in love with the scents of roasted castanyas (chestnuts) and sweet potatoes prepared by corner street vendors throughout Barcelona.
Now on an Autumn morning, my husband can be found standing at the oven carefully roasting castanyas to nibble on with his coffee.
Sugary panellets paired with sweet Moscato wine is a delicacy prepared only this time of year with marzipan, cinnamon, potato and pine nuts. When my children came home from school with freshly prepared panellets from cooking class, I could barely steal a bite before they disappeared!
So, the Autumn season of Spain is upon us once again. And this year, 2020, we plan to make it even more special for our three little ones. Sure, things will feel different with COVID, but we won’t let that spoil the fun we look forward to all year!