Christmas Lasts Longer in Madrid
ore than 70 countries participate in one of the most convivial fairs—for its diversity and for the special time of year—of the many held in the Spanish capital. We’re talking about the International Christmas Fair of Cultures. This year, from 14 to 23 December, the Matadero Cultural Centre hosts the fourth edition of La Navideña, with more than 300 activities planned and the most inclusive Christmas market in the city set to welcome guests. Madrid always puts hospitality first, and alongside the inevitable roasted chestnuts you’ll find a host of products from the world over. It’s how Madrid embraces the traditions of other countries and shares them with visitors from far and wide.
But one market in Madrid really stands out at Christmastime, and that’s the one in Plaza Mayor. Over a hundred stalls overflow with everything from classic Nativity scenes to the wildest wigs, which are donned by entire families and groups of friends during the holidays. It’s all part of the exuberance of Madrid. No-one ever looks ridiculous here.
Just five minutes from Plaza Mayor is the Teatro Real, Spain’s pre-eminent performing arts institution. On Christmas Eve, it resonates with a recital of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved Christmas music and carols from around the world. The next day is the ‘Christmas in Hollywood’ concert, featuring some of the greatest soundtracks of all time.
Madrid, multicultural and welcoming, ever open to new voices and styles, is the venue for the 24th Gospel Greats Festival. The intergenerational experience is complete with meet and greets between artists and audience.The festival ends on 16 December.
And as December goes on, the capital becomes increasingly more festive. Here, New Year’s Eve—or Nochevieja as it’s known to locals—isn’t celebrated just once. Or twice. In Puerta del Sol you get the chance to toast three times. The traditional time is, of course, at midnight on 31 December, when everyone eats twelve grapes, one for each chime of the clock. One hour later, this year for the first time, the bells will sound again as the Canary Islands bring in the New Year.
For those in the know, you can get a head start on the celebrations in Puerto del Sol on 30 December, when the dress rehearsal is taken over by the young crowd and grapes are replaced by dolly mixtures. If you don’t have any handy, not to worry; any local will have a few dozen to spare. If you don’t get to Puerta del Sol on time, there’s still no need to worry. Everyone, whether it’s on a friend’s terrace, half-way through a musical on the Gran Via or on a hotel rooftop knows how to celebrate the last—or next to last—night of the year.
On the evening of the 31st, another tradition takes to the streets. The San Silvestre is the city’s most popular race. More than 40,000 runners combine their running shoes with Santa hats and reindeer horns for the 10 kilometre race. In Madrid, even getting some exercise turns into a festive party where you can meet people.
The final touch to Christmas in Madrid is the night before the arrival of the Three Kings. On the evening of 5 January, everything stops to make way for the Magi, who bring the gifts that will be opened the next morning. As the cavalcade passes, sweets are thrown to the waiting crowds and, for one last time, the city brings on the party—and confetti—until next Christmas.