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Madrid and the two May feasts

Don’t worry; what you’ve read on the title isn’t wrong. It is not a mistake that we didn’t write “the feasts of the second of May”. Madrid enjoys not only one, but two festivities in the same month. A quick glance at a calendar will reveal that the days 2 and 15 are marked as holidays.

The visitor may be shocked and even confused: what is it that is celebrated today? Isn’t the 2nd of May the city’s holiday? These are questions that are constantly heard during the two weeks between the day of the Community of Madrid and San Isidro’s day.

Defence of the Monteleon Artillery Fields (Madrid) by Joaquín Sorolla

Defence of the Monteleon Artillery Fields (Madrid) by Joaquín Sorolla

Ok, let us begin by the closest in time: the second of May is the celebration of the Community of Madrid (that is, the whole region). It is not a religious holiday, but a historic one: the second of May of 1808 the people of Madrid rose in arms against the Napoleonic troops, which had occupied the city after the so called “Aranjuez’s Mutiny”, on March 17th of that same year. The event that set the flame for May’s rebellion was the transferal of the Infante Francisco (the youngest son of the king Charles IV) to Bayonne, authorized by the French high command. The repression of the rebellion was brutal, but some of the rebels managed to escape to the town of Móstoles (south of Madrid), where its mayors signed an edict in which they asked all Spaniards to fight against the French invaders. We are not going to tell you how that war ended, because it is visible at plain sight: if things didn’t turn out as they did, today you would be learning French in Spain.

The second holiday in Madrid’s month of May is San Isidro’s day. But this festivity is only celebrated in the city of Madrid, and not in all the Community. As you know, this saint is the patron of Madrid: a farmer that had a certain gift to find water, and whose spirit, according to the legend, helped the Christian troops in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, in 1212. He was beatified in 1619, the same year that his festivity was set on the 15th of May. It is customary on that day to drink water from the spring situated next to the chapel dedicated to the saint, and to wander around the typical fair set on the San Isidro field (by the way, this location serves as scenario in one of Goya’s most renowned paintings). If you happen around there on that day, you will be able to see stalls selling hens and mesenteries, “dumb” and “smart” doughnuts, and people dressed in the typical dresses and clothes… summing up, the “typical” typical festivity.

San Isidro's fair Poster (1963)

San Isidro’s fair Poster (1963)

These are the basic differences between the two holidays, in a “historical” or “formal” sense (as you prefer). But, in praxis (don’t tell this to anyone), the city’s inhabitants usually distinguish between “the one in which the whole community has a day off work” and “the one in which shops close only in Madrid”.

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