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The madrileños are wont to describe Madrid’s climate as ‘nueve meses de invierno, tres meses de infierno’ (‘nine months of winter, three months of hell’) and, well, yes, it can get fairly toasty in summer, as a result of which the locals tend to abandon the city in droves, leaving it a ghost town. The council has set about trying to change all that, laying on a banquet of cultural offerings from street parties to jazz concerts as part of its ‘Summer in the City’ programme. For more information, see www.munimadrid.es.

The fun really kicks off, though, when the city takes to the streets for the festival of its patron saint, San Isidro, in mid May. The action centres on the Plaza Mayor, where there are nightly gigs (and sometimes classical concerts during the day), but there are plenty of performances and religious ceremonies all over town. More of the same happens in August for the ‘Verbenas’ of various saints, when the streets and squares of the old Lavapiés, Rastro and La Latina neighbourhoods are dolled up with flowers and bunting, and the locals don their traditional gear for some serious street partying. San Cayetano is first, on 7 August, followed by San Lorenzo on the 10th and La Paloma on the 15th. Daytime sees parades and events for kids, by night there is live music, organ grinders, traditional chotis dancing, the aroma of grilled chorizo and churros, sangría by the bucketful and a lot of good, clean fun well into the night.

Madrid festivals are not nearly as famous as Spain's other bacchanals like the Running of the Bulls, Fallas or La Tomatina, to name a few. Then again, Madrid nightlife is so fierce on a weekly basis that you don't need to plan your trip around a special festival to guarantee a crazy party. Madrileños take their festivals nonchalantly, like any other great excuse to hit the streets and enjoy the company of friends, music and, of course, alcohol.

 

Major Madrid Festivals

Nochevieja, December 31
New York has Times Square, but Madrid's ball drops from the clock tower at Puerta del Sol, where thousands gather yearly and Spaniards elsewhere watch the raucous on TV. Instead of counting down from 10, the clock chimes 12 to represent good fortune for the 12 upcoming months of the year. Tradition obliges you to eat a grape at every toll - more of a challenge than you might imagine - and uncork your champagne at midnight. After that, it's impossible predict where the night will take you!

Dos de mayo, May 2
On May 2, 1808, the people of Madrid rose up against Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, to free themselves of French rule. Thus began the 6-year War of Independence and, along with it, a new concept of Spain delineated by the country's first constitution. Madrid celebrates this beloved uprising around the Plaza de 2 de mayo in Malasaña, an important battle site and, since then, a counterculture epicenter (see La Movida). Police have more or less lifted the outdoor drinking ban in the plaza just for this occassion after years of prohibition, reviving the Dos de Mayo spirit.

San Isidro, May 15
Madrid's most important festival: Fiestas de San Isidro
Normally, Madrid celebrates the Fiestas de San Isidro for 9 days, from the Friday before May 15 through the following Sunday. It's the most important, lively and emblematic Madrid festival of the year.

San IsidroSan Isidro was canonized on May 15, 1622 for miraculously making water rise to rescue his son from a well, along with a handful of other wondrous deeds. Hence he became Madrid's patron saint and, simultaneously, the "laborer/peasant saint" after his profession.
For more about San Isidro, you can visit the church of the same name on calle Toledo - built over the site where the miracle purportedly took place - about two blocks from the Plaza Mayor. The church holds a small museum with exhibits including the famous well along with a small collection of archaeological findings excavated in the region of Madrid.

Like most in Spain, this Madrid festival has largely lost its religious character. Instead, the city government uses San Isidro as a platform to represent the best of Madrid culture, old and new, from bullfights to break dancing. You'll enjoy a full calendar of concerts, plays, parades, fairs and special art exhibits, most free of charge.

Weekend partying is centered day and night around the Plaza de las Vistillas, Plaza de San Andrés and Puente de Segovia in the Austrias neighborhood, near the Plaza Mayor. At night, bars set up shop on the street, or "chiringuitos." Good luck elbowing your way through the hordes to get a "mini," the Spanish term for a huge plastic cup of mojito, beer, cocktail or mixed drink.

El Chotis, Chulapos, Castizos & Cocido
The chotis is Madrid's typical music and dance, though strangely Scottish in origen. It became popular in the 19th century and was largely danced in the working class neighborhoods of Lavapiés and El Rastro. Those who lived in these areas did not have much money, but they dressed and danced brightly as if they did. Known as "majos" and "majas," or "chulapos" and "chulapas" (a variation of "chulo," which means cool or cocky), Goya immortalized these proud, attractive madrileños in numerous paintings which you can see at the Prado Museum.

"Castizo" is an adjective that describes anything typical of Madrid. Thus the "castizo" madrileños of today dress up like chulapos/as and dance the chotis or head down to the San Isidro Hermitage on the banks of the Manzanares River to eat cocido, a local kind of stew (see Foods in Madrid).

Gigantes & Cabezudos
Gigants (people on stilts) with "cabezudos" (big, satirical papier mache heads) parade around the city center, usually on the first Saturday afternoon of San Isidro.

Barquillos
You can buy barquillos all year round in front of the Palacio Real, but they are especially prevalent during San Isidro. Barquillos are wafers topped with chocolate or whipped cream to your liking. The vendors, called "barquilleros" dress like "chulapos2 with a traditional vest and cap and carry around a "wheel of fortune" where you can gamble for more wafers.

Bullfights
The Plaza de Toros de las Ventas schedules all the best bullfights for the Fiestas de San Isidro, every day at 5pm. (See Madrid bullfights for information).

You can find official San Isidro programming at the Madrid City Hall website.

June 13-15 th
On the 13th of June the festival of San Antonio de la Florida is held. On this day according to dressmakers' tradition, a single girl must place 13 pins in the baptismal font, and if one of the pins sticks to her finger, she will marry during the year.

San Lorenzo, San Cayetano & La Paloma, August
August heat prompts most madrileños to escape the city, but those who stay commiserate merrily throughout the centro at outdoor fairs, bars and concerts. First come the neighborhood festivals of San Cayetano in El Rastro neighborhood and San Lorenzo in Lavapiés, where local residents set up concerts, colorful decorations, games and outdoor food & drink stands. La Paloma, on the other hand, celebrates the Virgen's Assumption during the week of August 15th with traditions similar to San Isidro.

Official National & Local Holidays 2007
On these days, workers have off and the vast majority of shops and museums will be closed or have reduced hours.

January 1 - New Year's Day
January 6 - Epiphany
April 5 - Holy Thursday
April 6 - Good Friday
May 1 - Labor Day
May 2 - Madrid Regional Holiday
May 15 - San Isidro
August 15 -Assumption of the Virgen
November 1 - All Saints Day
November 9 - La Almudena
December 6 - Constitution Day
December 8 - Day of the Immaculate Conception
December 25 - Christmas Day