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Christmas in Madrid

About Madrid > Events & Traditions

Throughout the year Madrid hosts an array of fiestas that liven up its streets and welcome visitors to the city, but few of them spread to as many parts of Madrid as the Christmas celebrations.

At the end of November the Christmas lights
are turned on and the city is filled with a magical air. The streets are dressed in all their finery, the trees take on a Christmassy look, and shops and markets are stocked up with all kinds of gifts.

In December Christmas gets going with open-air events, concerts, street markets
and loads of surprises. Here are some of the activities and highlights on this year's festive programme.

The streets in the city centre will be decked out with Christmas lights until January 6.

To get a taste of Christmas in Madrid start by going to Plaza Mayor
, where you can see one of the city's best known Christmas markets, selling figures for Nativity scenes, decorations and even Christmas trees with all the accessories you could possibly want.

The Plaza Mayor is also a perfect departure point for discover Madrid.

Although the city's main churches are setting up Nativity scenes
, it's the City Council's that always draws the largest crowds. This year it is travelling to the main hall of the renovated Cibeles Palace.

From December 23 to January 8, the Conde Duque Cultural Centre
, with a range of activities designed for the youngest members of the family: parades, plays, storytelling, music, dance and even drama workshops for kids.

Shopping and gifts

As is traditional, Plaza Mayor's market will fill the square with stalls selling decorations and all kinds of Christmas goodies. The 21st Crafts Fair will also be set up in Plaza de España over the same period. The recently renovated Plaza de Isabel II will accommodate a stage where a selection of music groups and choirs will be performing over the Christmas holidays, from classical music to jazz and flamenco, as part of the Music in the City series.

Nativity Scenes, shopping and New Year's Eve

The City Council organises exhibitions of Nativity scenes on its premises, where you can admire models which depict the birth of Jesus, from Mary and Joseph's journey to the adoration of the Magi in the stable.

If you fancy a bit of shopping
, then head for the city centre between Sol, Gran Vía, Plaza Mayor and Callao; there you will find all kinds of shops at which to buy all the presents on your list. Children can give their letters to Father Christmas and the Three Kings' pages and then enjoy the Cortylandia show in the entrance to the Corte Inglés in Calle Maestro Victoria.

The fun doesn't stop here, however. On some of the city's squares you'll find temporary ice-skating rinks
; other plazas, such as Jacinto Benavente, Santa Cruz and Plaza de España, are lined with stalls selling craftwork and fancy dress costumes.

On the last day of the year
Madrid hosts two unmissable events. In the evening the spotlight is on sport, as runners take to their marks for the San Silvestre Vallecana, an increasingly popular race, which has been taking place for over 30 years and is both professional and a fun run.

At night, however, all eyes turn to Puerta del Sol
the epicentre of the country's New Year's Eve celebrations. It's the perfect spot to see in the new year and eat twelve grapes for good luck as the clock on the Real Casa de Correos strikes midnight. Afterwards, parties kick off across the city, continuing well into the following morning.

Christmas Traditions

n Madrid, like in the other places in Spain, traditionally, the Christmas period is celebrated with several large family meals on the following occasions :-

Christmas Eve dinner (Noche Buena)
Christmas Day lunch (Día de Navidad)
New Year's Eve dinner (Noche Vieja)
New Year's Day lunch (Día de Año Nuevo)
Epiphany (Jan. 6th) lunch (Día de Reyes)
Christmas Eve / Christmas Day (Noche Buena / Día de Navidad)

Of the above mentioned occasions, Christmas Day lunch
is obviously important, but Christmas Eve dinner is equally so and possibly even more. Although Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Papa Noel does visit some families in Spain, the more traditional gift-bearers are the "Reyes Magos" (see below).

Traditional foods for Christmas Eve dinner
include all types of seafood. "Angulas" (baby eels) used to be one of the most traditional dishes, but their increasing scarcity and thus cost has made them prohibitive for all but the richest families. They have now been replaced by "gulas", artificially made to look like baby eels, but made of a fish mix. Oven-baked "besugo" (sea bream) and "lombarda" (red cabbage) are also popular dishes.

Christmas Day lunch
usually involves heavier dishes; roast lamb and other roast meats are the norm here.

New Year / New Year's Eve (Año Nuevo / Noche Vieja)

New Year's Eve in Madrid basically revolves around 1 of 3 possible options :-

a) Going to the Puerta del Sol with all the crowds and celebrating the 12 chimes at midnight in Madrid's main square, then heading off to a private party, or a discotheque, bar or club

) Having a late dinner with family or friends and watching the 12 chimes on TV, after which the younger members of the family will head off to a private party, or a discotheque, bar or club

) Having dinner at a restaurant, where your meal, drinks, the party and often a dance with live music will all be included in a fixed price.

New Year's Eve involves the tradition, unique to Spain, of eating 12 grapes in time to the 12 chimes of the clock at midnight. This tradition dates from the year 1909, when a surplus of grapes during that year's harvest obliged the wine industry to find a creative selling idea. They invented the ritual of eating 12 grapes to bring in the New Year, a tradition which is still thriving all over Spain today.

After the evening meals on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and also the eve of Epiphany or Reyes Magos
, the over 18's  will tend to go out to parties, discos or bars until the early hours. It's amazing to see the traffic jams start immediately after midnight on New Year's Eve!

The traditional end to New Year's Eve (and many other nights out as well), is to visit the Chocolateria San Gines in order to calm those hunger pangs with some delicious chocolate con churros.

The Three Kings

As mentioned above, although some children do receive presents on Christmas Day, it is much more traditional in Spain to give and receive on January 6th, "el día de los Reyes Magos". On the previous evening, January 5th, there are large processions in most Spanish towns to celebrate the arrival of the 3 Kings (known in Spain as Melchor, Gaspar & Baltasar ) bringing the children's presents on the backs of camels, which the children receive on the morning of January 6th, a public holiday in Spain.

The Three Kings will be arriving from the East to bring a message that this year focuses on The Gift of Innocence. T
he Three Kings Parade in Madrid will take place on the afternoon of January 5, travelling from Nuevos Ministerios to Plaza de Cibeles. The Kings will come bearing gifts and will spend the night dropping them off in Madrilenian houses.

Christmas is a time for festivities, tradition, decorations
and, of course, gastronomy. Food, especially sweets, plays an important part in the celebrations. To round off a perfect Christmas share a roscón de reyes (a traditional ring-shaped cake), some nougat or polvorones before or after the Three Kings Parade, which crosses the city centre on January 5. A sweet ending to an unforgettable Christmas in Madrid.

Opening Hours

Taking into account the celebrations described explained above, you shouldn't count on any restaurant or shop
being open after around 8:30pm on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve or at any time on Christmas Day (a few may open for dinner on the 25th but it can by no means be guaranteed). Museums will also be mostly closed on December 25th. Public transport systems will close at around the same time on Christmas and New Year's Eve, but will run (albeit at longer intervals) on Christmas and New Year's Day.

The 3 Kings will be stocking up on presents right up until the last moment on January 5th, so New Year sales in Spain don't start until January 7th.

Please use the links to the left to find out all you need to know for your visit to Madrid.

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