May festivities in Madrid

Madrid, Spanish culture, Spanish traditions | April 30, 2012 | No comments

When a new visitor arrives to Madrid, he is often surprised when he finds out that there are two festivities in the city which are very close together in the month of May: barely two weeks separate the 2nd (day of the Community of Madrid) and the 15th (San Isidro’s day). What’s the difference between them?

The second of May is a festivity that remembers a historic event: the popular rise against the Napoleonic troops that had invaded Madrid. It started when a group of civilians tried to stop the French soldiers from taking Francisco (the youngest son of the king Charles IV) outside the capital; and finished by dusk, when the mayors of the city of Mostoles (south of Madrid) signed an edict calling every Spaniard to rise in arms against the French invaders. The so called “Independence War” had just started, which Goya would depict in paintings like “The 2nd of May”, “The shootings at Príncipe Pío hill” or the series of engravings called “The disasters of war”. Nowadays it is a holiday that is celebrated in the whole of the Community of Madrid, and in which several events take place, including a floral offer to those who fell on that day.

The Second of May 1808 by Francisco de Goya

The Second of May 1808 by Francisco de Goya

The holiday of the 15th of May is the festivity of San Isidro Labrador, the city’s patron saint. This means that the celebrations only take place within the limits of the city of Madrid, and not in the Community in its totality (which comes to signify, in the end, that it is a day off work for the inhabitants of Madrid, but not for those of San Sebastián de los Reyes or Móstoles). Isidro was a humble farmer born in Madrid in 1082, of which is said that he had a special gift for finding water springs, that the angels plowed his lands, and that he accomplished several miracles. He was canonized in 1622, at the same time as his festivity was set on the 15th of May. On that day, in the city of Madrid, there is a procession in which a figure of the saint is shown and paraded, a pilgrimage to his chapel (next to which there is a fountain that many consider “miraculous”) and a fair in the so called “San Isidro Prairie”, where one can taste typical dishes, and to which many people arrive dressed in the typical “madrileño” costumes. By the way, curiously enough, Goya also has a painting dedicated to this prairie though, of course, no one is attired in Manila shawls or parpusas (typical hats from Madrid).

The prairie of San Isidro by Francisco de Goya

The prairie of San Isidro by Francisco de Goya

These are, basically, the differences between the two festivities. There are many others, but are less significant than these: the one on the 2nd of May is slightly more official and the one on the 15th is more endearing. So we invite the reader to enjoy them while he takes the time to look for those contrasts.


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