November 23th, 2015
Christmas in Madrid offers an endless array of activities to enjoy the special season. The capital offers different shops to buy all the presents on your list.
On the evening of 31st December, there is a race, which has been held for over 30 years, the San Silvestre Vallecana. At night, however, Puerta del Sol sees in the new year to eat twelve grapes as the clock on the Real Casa de Correos strikes midnight. To round it all off the Three Kings' Parade crosses the entire city on 5th January before many people from Madrid share a roscón de reyes (a traditional ring-shaped cake) on 6th January.
Madrid plays host to lots of feasts and festivals throughout the year. The streets get all dressed up and locals go out to welcome visitors. Among the city’s celebrations, Christmas can be said to be the most popular, reaching almost every district in town.
Magic comes to the city in late November, when Christmas lights turn on. Shimmering lights in all colours will dazzle you here, there, everywhere: in streets, in squares and in buildings. Of course, they comply with the strictest environmental and energy efficiency standards, saving energy as they brighten up the city.
Street lighting in Madrid is the creation of fashion designers Ángel Schlesser, Hannibal Laguna, Purificación García, Ana Locking, architects Sergio Sebastián, Teresa Sapey and Ben Busche, and graphic designer Roberto Turégano. Their blinking spirit is ever-present in the city streets.
A collage with words and symbols… A luminous landscape drawn with geometric lines… Tree branches projected in yellow and blue hues… These are some of the lighting designs you can spot during Christmas time in the Spanish capital.
In Christmas, Madrid is peppered with artificial conifers standing in strategic points. Going beyond traditional Christmas trees, some of them can be explored inside, opening the door to a world of fantasy and magic.
The spectacular lights are complemented by traditional garlands hanging across the tree-lined boulevards, plus the special lighting of the main buildings and monuments, like Puerta de Alcalá gate or Palacio de Cibeles.
If you want to learn what’s going on over Christmas in Madrid, head for Plaza Mayor. Here you’ll find the most popular Christmas market in town, selling Nativity scene figurines, Christmas decorations, and all sorts of ornaments for Christmas trees: balls, lights, garlands… anything!
Plaza Mayor is also the starting point of the official guided tours taking visitors of all ages through the history of Christmas traditions – Nativity scenes, sweets, etc. – and to Madrid’s most special, secret-keeping places. Children are welcome, and the tours are adapted for disabled visitors (hearing or visual impairment, physical or mental disabilities).
In addition, the Madrid City Hall hosts nativity scene exhibitions, showing scale models and other recreations of the most popular events associated with the birth of Jesus: Mary and Joseph leaving for Bethlehem, the adoration of the Magi, and so on.
If you’re a shopaholic, you should head for the area bounded by Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía, Plaza Mayor and Callao. Here you’ll find every item on your shopping list. Your children can bring their letters to Santa and enjoy Cortylandia, a show put up by El Corte Inglés department store in front of its building on Calle Maestro Victoria.
Several squares in town are turned into ice skating rinks or markets. Check out the fancy dresses and crafts at Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, Plaza de Santa Cruz or Plaza de España. Most activities for kids are grouped into Children’s City at Conde Duque.
Every year, on New Year’s Eve, Puerta del Sol becomes the navel of the country’s revelry. Thousands of people from the most distant corners pack the square on 31 December to greet the New Year while eating one lucky grape to each of the 12 midnight chimes from the Real Casa de Correos clock.
There are different stories about the origin of the 12 grape tradition. According to the most popular, in 1909, winegrowers in Levante had a surplus of grapes, and so they gave them to the population for free. They said those who ate the grapes on New Year’s Eve would be prosperous the following year.
It’s quite clear they were convincing. More than a century later, people across Spain gobble down their dozen grapes – one for each month of the coming year – to the beat of the clock chimes in Puerta del Sol.
When the clock strikes on 31 December, almost everyone in Spain is watching it, either live or on TV. A few seconds before midnight, the ball on top of the clock goes down with carillon sounds. Then, the four anticipatory tones (cuartos in Spanish) can be heard as a prelude to the 12 chimes themselves, striking every three seconds to prevent grape eaters from choking.
The clock ceremony is only the beginning of a very long night. On New Year’s Eve, Madrid never really gets to sleep. Festive atmosphere, music and merrymakers are all around. If you’re coming to Madrid, you should make sure you spend New Year’s Eve in town.