Cultural events in Madrid
Reyes (Three Kings)
On the evening of 5 January, Noche de Reyes, thousands of children and their parents line up along C/Alcalá to watch the annual Cabalgata (parade), which is also televised. Dozens of elaborate floats pass by and the riders hurl sweets to the children. Later, most families have a big dinner, and the following day presents await those who have been good. Those who haven’t get a piece of coal.
Carnaval in the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday is a very good excuse for dressing up and partying, either in the street or in bars and clubs. It opens in the Plaza Mayor, followed by a parade around old Madrid. On Ash Wednesday, the last day, there is a ribald ceremony during which a fish is carted around to the strains of a marching band, before being interred.
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
In the week leading up to leading up to Good Friday and Easter weekend.
Easter is usually a good time to be in Madrid, as many madrileños get out of town for the long weekend, and the weather is usually fine. In Madrid and nearby towns, there are many parish processions in which hooded penitentes schlep figures of Christ and the Virgin around. Regarded as the most impressive is that of Jesús Nazareño el Pobre from San Pedro El Viejo and around La Latina. All over town there are organ and choral performances in churches.
Fiesta del Trabajo (May Day)
On the 1st of May the largest May Day march, attracting upwards of 60,000 people, is called jointly by the communist-led CCOO and the socialist UGT unions, which converge on Sol. Smaller in scale but quite animated is the anarcho-syndicalist CGT’s march from Atocha to Plaza Jacinto Benavente. The anarchist purists CNT/AIT, meanwhile, march up C/Bravo Murillo from Cuatro Caminos. Many of the participants then head to the Casa de Campo where the UGT organises a lively party with stalls run by the casas regionales, clubs representing Spain’s regions.
Dos de Mayo
On the 2nd of May commemorating the fateful day in 1808 when the people of Madrid rose up against Napoleon’s occupying troops and paid for their audacity by being massacred, 2 May is now the region’s official holiday and kick-starts a nearly continuous series of fiestas that go on throughout the rest of the spring and summer. Things get going in the Malasaña neighbourhood – named after the uprising’s teenage heroine, Manuela Malasaña – in the Plaza Dos de Mayo, where the Monteleón barracks, a main bastion of resistance, then stood. Live gigs are held in the Plaza and in the Las Vistillas park and there are events at a number of other spots around town.
Around the 15th of May this is the time to see Madrileños doing what they do best: taking to the streets and having a rollicking good knees-up. The fiestas celebrate San Isidro, Madrid’s patron saint, a humble 12th-century labourer and well-digger to whom all manner of miracles are attributed and whose wife, María de la Cabeza, was also canonised, making them the only sainted couple in history. The fiestas are officially declared open and nightly gigs are held (with the odd classical performance thrown in) at the Plaza Mayor.
San Antonio de la Florida
One of the first of the summer’s biggest street parties, the San Antonio celebrations can trace their history back a very long way. June 13 is the feast day of San Antonio, the patron saint of seamstresses. Single girls used to place 13 pins in the baptismal font of the hermitage. If one stuck to her finger she would marry within a year. The main party, including events for kids, takes place across the Paseo de la Florida, in the Parque de la Bombilla.
In October/November the impressive and always enjoyable ‘Autumn Festival’ offers somewhere in the region of 60-odd theatre, dance and music spectacles and remains one of the city’s major performing arts events. The range throughout the festival is quite wide. Acts as diverse as the Brodsky Quartet, Ballets Trockadero de Monaco, musical groups from Rajasthan, La Comédie Française, Eddie Palmieri and the Spanish Orquesta Nacional de Jazz have all popped up in recent years, with Tartuffe and Romeo and Juliet big theatrical draws in 2006.
All Public holidays
On public holidays (fiestas), virtually all shops, banks and offices, and some bars and restaurants, are closed. There is a near-normal public transport service, though, except on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and many museums are open, with Sunday hours. When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday many people take the day before or after the weekend off as well, in a long weekend called a puente (bridge). Many places are also closed for the whole of Easter Week. The usual official holidays are:
New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo) 1 Jan
Three Kings (Reyes Magos) 6 Jan
Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
May (Labour) Day (Fiesta del Trabajo) 1 May
Madrid Day (Día de la Comunidad de Madrid) 2 May
San Isidro 15 May
Virgen de la Paloma 15 Aug
Discovery of America (Día de la Hispanidad) 12 Oct
All Saints’ Day (Todos los Santos) 1 Nov
Virgen de la Almudena 9 Nov
Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución) 6 Dec
Immaculate Conception (La Inmaculada) 8 Dec
Christmas Day (Navidad) 25 Dec