As Americans have Thanksgiving as the official countdown for Christmas, Spain has its own reference point: Constitution Day. Or, better said, Constitution Puente.
Spaniards call Puente those bank holidays closed to the weekend (bank holidays at Mondays, Fridays, Tuesdays or Thursdays… ok, everything but Wednesday), so they work as an actual bridge (Puente) to the weekend. Constitution Puente is the most popular one as it involves two national bank holidays: December 6th is the proper Constitution Day, while December 8th is Virgin Mary day.
Most people like to go shopping to Madrid during the Puente, and that brings me straight to my point: Christmas in Madrid are very crowdy. During the Constitution Puente is impossible to drop by Sol Metro Station: trains are working, but doors are closed to avoid avalanches. In fact, it gets so crowdy that Madrid’s Local Council started last year running traffic restrictions at Gran Vía, and this year it’s running a new experiment: Preciados Street and Carmen Street will work as one-way walking streets during December.
Anyway, there are many traditions to do in Madrid during Christmas. I’ve made a short list of the most traditional ones, with some #Madridhacks included.
#1 Christmas Lights
You know Christmas is coming in Spain when you see Christmas sweets such as turrón at supermarkets and Christmas lights in the street. Christmas Lights can vary a lot in Madrid, given that decoration is paid by each of Madrid’s districts and budgets can vary. Hence, richer decorations are found at Barrio de Salamanca, while the most popular ones are over Sol, Callao, Plaza de España and Gran Vía. Lights also involve several Christmas trees; the most spectacular one is placed (again) at Sol and, funny fact, is sponsored by the National Lottery.
#Madridhack Take a walk or a ride through Serrano Street after 20 pm, the effect is awesome!
Have you heard about Spanish Gordo? That’s how is called the biggest Spanish Lottery prize, and is always paid at Christmas. The most popular Lottery Administration in Madrid is Doña Manolita. If you want to buy some tickets there I’ll only say good luck to you- queues at Doña Manolita might get biblical proportions. The good news is that you can buy tickets in any other Lottery Administration, but don’t ever buy them to people in the street- they might be selling fake tickets.
#3 Christmas Markets
There are many more around the city, but the most popular Christmas Market is placed at Plaza Mayor. There you can find all sorts of Christmas decorations, pranks and ridiculous hats that madrileños like to wear for some strange reason.
#MadridHack If you wanna live a 100% Christmas as a local, you must know that madrileños really like having a bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) at tapas bars located at the very Plaza Mayor and surroundings. I don’t really like that kind of sandwiches, so I can’t recommend any of these places since I haven’t tried any of them.
#MadridHack If you feel the same, you can always choose churros instead. I’ve already talked about how to eat churros in a proper way in a previous post, so I’m giving you only three names where to go and enjoy them: Chocolatería San Ginés, Chocolates Valor and Horno San Onofre.
This is a classic for children. Department store Corte Inglés offers an spectacle for kids every year at Plaza de las Descalzas. I’m not going to describe it, just watch this video.
#5 Nativity at Palacio Real
Nativity scenes are also very traditional between Spaniards. My own father can get really nuts about building his own Nativity scene at home (he usually takes half of the living room or even more for building his scenes). There are plenty of Nativity Scenes in Madrid, but one of the most spectacular ones is the Neapolitan Nativity at the Royal Palace, which has been running for three centuries! It’s opened every single day since December 6th until January 14th from 10 to 18, and entrance is for free.
#6 Christmas Dont’s
After all I have said, I have two strong warnings for you. First: please take care of your belongings. Madrid is usually plenty of pickpockets, but they apparently multiply themselves during Christmas. Don’t let them be your Grinch!
Second: The Spanish tradition at New Year’s Eve is eating 12 grapes, once every time the bell rings at 12pm. They’re supposed to give you good luck for the starting year. So, every single Spanish family sits in front of TV with their grapes and watch the clock placed at Puerta del Sol (yes, this is nationally broadcasted). You may think that living that experience could be a good idea. DON’T. PLEASE. You can’t believe how crowdy gets! Police closes the square so nobody can get it or out until a few hours have passed already in the New Year. Not even madrileños want to go there. Nor even during the rehearsal, which is celebrated on December 30th and gets very crowdy too!
Anyway, as I always say, let’s enjoy Madrid as locals. And merry Christmas too!