May 2 and May 15: May is Marvelous in Madrid! TWO holidays just for us. May 2 is for the entire autonomous community (hate that expression but it is the proper translation – why the did not just use “region” I will never know, oh wait, it’s the regions that were independent kingdoms before Spain became Spain end ponderment) and May 15 is just for Madrid city. This is confusing to anyone not local and to some locals. Both fiestas are celebrated with things inside and outside.
May 2 celebrates the beginning of the uprising against Napoleon’s troops, quartered in Madrid with orders to be horrible so they would provoke an uprising (1808, see Goya’s paintings). This usded to be a pretty active fiesta, but it’s toned down a lot, partly due to budget crunch and maybe because two big fiestas in one month make Madrid look like a party town instead of a Major European Capital. (I’ll refrain from further political comment on that but doing a mental eye-roll, now we have a new city hall which might pump up this fiesta again). Dos de Mayo neighborhood has done some fun things in the past and looks like this is another good year – Dos de Mayo was site of the big uprising on the day, as neighborhood name indicates – get more info on their activities here http://www.somosmalasana.com/fiestas-2-de-mayo/ Madrid outer suburb Mostoles was also important in early May 1808, so they have their own program, though alas, the website still shows program from which looks REALLY fun. Get more info: http://www.mostoles.es/Festejos/es/festejos/2-mayo Alas, I cannot find current information for Madrid-City activities, there’s usually some street dancing and the like but they’ve still got old info at this link http://www.madrid.org/fiestasdel2demayo/2018/index.html PROBABLE CELEBRATION DATES IN 2019: April 27-May 2
May 15 celebrates Madrid’s patron saint – see more below. PROBABLE CELEBRATION DATES IN 2019: May 10-15.
San Isidro Labrador – well digger, farm labourer and patron saint of farmers all over the world is Madrid’s patron saint. That sounds strange for a city of Madrid’s size, but San Isidro’s 11th century Madrid was just a village. Let’s learn a little about him before we talk about the fiestas:
THE SAINT Isidro was born in the village of Madrid in 1082, probably on calle Aguila near San Andrés church. When he was about 27, he moved north to Torrelaguna, where he met and married a local girl named María. He also met Iván de Vargas, a nobleman who had land near Torrelaguna and in Madrid.
Isidro is credited with 400 miracles – and apart from the miracles in life, it’s said he traveled more after death than in life. Not a miracle, really, just that lots of people manage Isidro’s final resting place and had a tussle or three over his remains.
If you’re a local (even for a year or two) watch for Discover San Isidro walk to learn more about our local boy and see the fiesta venues beforehand so you can find your way around.
THE FIESTA San Isidro day is May 15 – and is a holiday only in Madrid city, not in nearby towns.
San Isidro is the first warm-weather fiesta, and a true celebration of Madrid-ness. It’s said that authentic madrileños (all four grandparents from the city) are few and far between, but Madrid adopts people easily, so many locals feel madrileño enough to participate like an “authentic” native – does that mean you?
During the San Isidro fiestas you’ll see lots of people – even children – in the manolo and manola costume from 19th century Lavapies neighborhood: men in dark or checked trousers, white shirt, checked jacket and flat checked cap; women in a dress with fitted top and skirt fitted almost to the knee then flared or flounced, usually with a white headscarf tied under the chin and maybe an embroidered shawl. Both men and women wear red carnations and an “attitude”, a bit of a swagger in their walk.
Groups of people in those traditional clothes roam the fiesta areas – if you find a group, stick around to see if they dance the traditional pasacalles or schotis. The first dance is quite mobile but in the second the man rotates slowly while his full-skirted partner swirls around him. (Theoretically a man should be able to stand on a brick while dancing the schotis; a good dancer confesses his secret is a thick coat of soap on his leather-soled shoes). The preferred music is from the organillo, a hand-cranked player piano, where the right cranking style can make or break a tune. If you find an organillo playing, stick around: that’s another good place to see some traditional dances.
San Isidro sweet treats are rosquillas, vaguely doughnut shaped, not too sweet and hard-crumbly (not flaky-crumbly) pastry – get the plain tontas, literally “stupid ones” or the sweeter, frosted listas, the “clever ones” (available at most pastry shops during May). You’ll also see roving barquillo peddlars, carrying a red, knee-high cylinder and basket of barquillos, sort of tube-like ice cream cones without the ice cream. Spin the wheel on the top of the red cylinder to see if you get a prize!
Where to find the Fiesta: San Isidro fiesta calendar will come out early in May, so check at the tourism office in the Plaza Mayor around that time.
Music in the streets: Traditional places in the city for night time concerts or dances: Las Vistillas park (Bailen street, south end of the Viaducto bridge), Plaza Mayor, sometimes Plaza de la Paja. In the last few years some events have been on the esplanade next to the Casa de Campo entrance (metro Principe Pio). These venues tend to change so check the fiesta calendar.
Ceramic fair: Plaza de las Comendadoras, usually about two weeks. Ceramics from all over Spain
Veneration of the relics: San Isidro church at calle Toledo 37: The Saint’s burial chamber is opened several days before May 15 for people to pay their respects.
Religious procession:San Isidro church on calle Toledo. Usually starts 7pm on May 15, often has a religious service beforehand. Statues of San Isidro and Santa Maria de la Cabeza are carried through the streets of old Madrid, accompanied by marching bands, priests and people dressed in traditional Madrid costume.
Romeria at the country chapel: Pradera and Ermita de San Isidro. A romeria is an outdoor celebration: for San Isidro, the tradition was to walk from San Andrés church to the country chapel on the site of the Vargas lands where Isidro worked as a labourer, attend outdoor mass, drink water from the fountain San Isidro created on this spot then eat the traditional tortilla española and rosquillas.
There’s a large park across from the Ermita and an elongated square that has food and some carnival-type games; usually fireworks on one of the last nights of the fiestas. The carnival may even be set up the weekend before, but in these years of budget crunch that might not happen.
Bullfights: The season starts earlier at Las Ventas bullring, but San Isidro is when it really revs up – three weeks of daily bullfights during May. More information at: www.las-ventas.com