Today, the 15th of May, is Madrid’s Patron Saint’s Day, “El Día de San Isidro Labrador“. It’s a day for the city of Madrid to come together and celebrate its history and traditions, costumes and music, and of course, its people. Sure, the festival started on the 10th and ends on the 19th of May, but today is THE BIG DAY.
Many years it’s hot and sunny, but this 2013 San Isidro Festival in Madrid’s Pradera de San Isidro Park was cool, cloudy and rainy – until about 11:30am. After the last drop dropped I edged outside and looked up, saw some blue sky between the dark clouds and decided to take a chance. I’d also checked the (mostly unreliable) weather forecast which said it should stop raining by noon.
While I usually start at the bottom of the Paseo de la Ermita del Santo street near the Río Manzanares river and work my way uphill, this time I started at the top and walked downhill – although I walked back up when I was finished and I’m glad I did it this way.
The first things you notice at the top are rows of Port-O-Pots (mobile toilets), parked police horse trailers, and a large stage for the nighttime concerts. These rock/pop concerts, while I’ve never attended one personally, can always be heard from my home when the windows are open just 1.2 kilometers away “as the crow flies” or 15-minutes onfoot.
Walking downhill, there’s no mistaking you’re in the middle of Fair Food Heaven. But this is like no typical United States County Fair Food you’ve ever tried before. Sure, they do have hotdogs, but these are rarely touched by Spaniards. Imagine the following Fair-Food Smells wafting across the San Isidro Park: roasting suckling pig, lamb and ribs, 5 varieties of sausages, 2 varieties of fried squid, fried sardines, croquettes, roasted whole chickens, fried-egg-covered potatoes, paella, and – this is a big one – something called “entresijos“. “Entresijos” is a popular fried delicacy of the stomach and intestines of a lamb or hen. (Trust me, they look nearly as nasty as they sound, all undulating and crusty fried – and I haven’t tried them yet. No, those pictured below are NOT “entresijos“, but are fried “porras” and “churros“)
Most of the food stands have a streetside bar where you can also enjoy a beer, wine, sangria, “tinto de verano“, or even something to eat. Many of the stands also have a covered seating area with tables and chairs to have a sit-down meal. In general, the food all looks delicious to my Spanish-assimilated eyes. And although I’m tempted to stop for a bite, I have lunch plans so I have to get back.
Among the food and drink stands, there are also a number of political party stands – which I find odd. Why mix party politics with festival fun? I guess since they paid their fee to have the stand, they’re hoping to sway the opinion of passersby. Not sure.
Although dark, billowing clouds continued to threaten the party, the overall attendance seemed only slightly smaller than last year’s, surely due to the rainy morning and cool temperatures. They say the Madrid City Hall spent 20% less on this year’s festivities, but I couldn’t tell a difference, at least not at the Pradera de San Isidro. Maybe you could notice at other venues.
Shortly after noon I found myself in the middle of the Pradera de San Isidro, right at the bend in the Calle de la Ermita del Santo street where the Catholic Mass for the Madrileño masses had just begun. I stood awhile and witnessed the procession and of the image of San Isidro Labrador while youngsters sang “Hallelujah” to an acoustic guitar. That was kind of nice and not so somber. Apart from all that, I had to think for a minute. This city-sponsored festival surrounds a religious figure. No separation of Church and State? This is Spain, afterall, where most (or all) of its holidays are religion-based. The kids and parents don’t care, though. They get the day off.
Catholic Mass and Arrival of “San Isidro Labrador”
in the Pradera de San Isidro in Madrid, Spain:
Leaving the seated Mass(es) behind, I continued downhill with several stands on my right selling “Rosquillas”, a traditional San Isidro pastry. Rosquillas are fried dough very similar to doughnuts with different sugary glazes. The most popular and most common of all “rosquillas” are “Las Tontas“, “Las Listas“, and “Las de Santa Clara“, but there are probably five additional flavors including coffee, lemon, chocolate, orange, strawberry, and more I can’t recall now. Since I didn’t want a swinging bag around my wrist while trying to take photos, I decided to buy my “rosquillas” on the way back – so I pressed on.
A little further down I reached the “Ermita de San Isidro“. This is a small church or hermitage first constructed in 1528 and then rebuilt in 1725. It’s dedicated to Madrid’s Patron Saint, San Isidro Labrador. On this day, “Día de San Isidro“, the faithful wait in line, sometimes for hours, to get inside and pay tribute. There’s another long line to drink the spring waters, “with healing power”, on the outside wall of the hermitage. This year I didn’t wait in line for either, but during previous years I would go the day before when there are often no lines at all.
It’s here in the street, immediately in front of the “Ermita del Santo” (“Ermita de San Isidro Labrador“), where most of the real ACTION is. Organized groups from different parts of Madrid display their period dances in period costumes. The most common dances are “El Chotis” but also the “Pasodoble“. The most common costumes are those of the “Chulapas” (for women) and “Chulapos” (for men) but also the “Goyesca” costumes. These groups dance for the crowds and are always happy to pose for photos, being quite proud of their appearance and skills.
“Chulapas” and “Chulapos” dancing “El Chotis”
in Madrid’s Pradera de San Isidro
A few raindrops dropped and I feared the worst, but it never happened. Still, I decided it was time to make my way back up hill and head home although I was packing a mini-umbrella just in case.
Before leaving, I stepped up to a “rosquilla” stand to buy the obligatory sweets for today’s “merienda“, for tomorrow’s breakfast, or for whenever. I bought 18 total for 11 Euros, a nice mixed bag and they are tasty!
Passing the catholic mass once again and heading up through the food stands, I paused several times for food-photos and the occasional cute-kid photo, too. Some people were already having their lunch at 1pm (so early!!) while others were having a pre-lunch drink at the streetside bars.
Leaving the Pradera de San Isidro grounds at the top of the hill and passing the concert stage once again, I noticed throngs of young and old pouring in and more parking their cars wherever they could fit. That’s good. I’m glad to see the San Isidro festival still so popular among Madrileños.
Also read all year’s accounts of the San Isidro Festival in Madrid with lots of information, insights, photos and videos: