If you look at a traditional Spanish calendar you will notice that every day is dedicated to a particular saint. For some Spaniards their saint’s day – the day dedicated to the saint that shares their name – is almost like a birthday. On your saint’s day your friends and family will send you messages and may even give you gifts.
On top of a personal saint’s day, many Spaniards also celebrate their cities’ patron saint’s day. On this day there are usually fiestas in the city and workers have a day off. Madrid’s patron saint is San Isidro, and Madrid celebrates his feast day on May 15th.
Who is San Isidro?
San Isidro (or Saint Isidore in English) was a farmer who lived in Madrid a thousand years ago. He was known for being a devout Catholic who shared his food with the less fortunate. The legend goes that he was always late for work, so his master decided to find out why. What the master found was Isidro deep in prayer, while an angel completed San Isidro’s farm work for him. San Isidro is said to have also resurrected his master’s daughter.
I left Madrid for Galicia early Friday morning, and was only able to celebrate on Thursday evening. Since I was in London at this time last year, I was excited to finally see how Madrileños celebrated their patron saint’s day. San Isidro is only one day, but celebrations in Madrid ran the entire weekend. There were concerts, fireworks and parades throughout the city.
One of the biggest attractions is La Pradera de San Isidro. Religious Madrileños may take part in a pilgrimage to San Isidro park where they drink from a fountain once they arrive. Afterwards, they spend the rest of the afternoon picnicking on the grassy lawns.
For those who didn’t bother to pack any food, vendors set up shop all along the walkway. Some even had patios set up for their customers. Most of the food was regular “fair food” such as hotdogs, hamburgers and french fries in a cup. However, there were also some uniquely Spanish dishes such as morcilla and deep fried goat innards.
After a savoury bite, it was time to enjoy the traditional pastry eaten on San Isidro, rosquillas. Originally I thought they were some type of butter cookie, but after trying one they tasted almost bread-like to me. They came in a wide variety of flavours, and I had a hard time choosing just one so I ended up taking one of each.
Traditional flavours are almond, meringue, sugared, or plain. Plain ones have a funny name and are called “tontos” or fools. Other flavours available were lemon, orange, strawberry and coffee.
While most people out and about that day wore regular clothing, some Madrileños went the extra mile and wore traditional chulapo folk outfits. For men this consisted of a grey vest and cap, a white shirt and black pants. Women wore a long dress, usually red but also in white or other colours, and a scarf around their face. At the top of their faces, there was usually a red flower. Some women opted to also wear a “Mantón de Manila,” a large shawl worn across the shoulders. This shawl is named after the Philippine capital where traditionally materials to make these shawls originated from.