Whether you realize it or not, Christmas is just around the corner. For some, this will mean the arrival of a long-awaited holiday in which much time and forethought has been invested. For others, this means complete panic because not a single gift has been bought yet and there are only so many more shopping days until Christmas. Whatever the case may be, just remember that it’s only once a year! Of course in Madrid, people’s feelings towards the holidays are similar to those in the States — somewhat of a love/hate relationship. Despite all the running around and stress, though, there is one tradition in Madrid that everyone seems to enjoy during the holiday season: heading to the center of the city to enjoy the holiday atmosphere.
Christmas in la Puerta del Sol
As if it weren’t already the case all year round, Puerta del Sol is by far the place to be during the holidays in Madrid. Not only do the city’s inhabitants make the trip at some point during the Christmas season, but Spaniards from all over the country flock to the capital around this time of year. But what brings everyone to Sol at Christmastime? First of all are the lights. Just like any major city, Madrid invests quite a bit of money and resources every year on decorating the city with lights for the holidays, particularly so in the center. In the middle of the Puerta del Sol is the centerpiece of the decorations, which is a several-story high metal Christmas tree made of lights. Everyone takes pictures of themselves in front of the tree, thus many a Facebook profile ‘pic’ this time of year contains the tree.
Beyond the lights and decorations, Sol is also full of people buying Christmas lottery. Just like children await the arrival of the Wise Men so they can get presents, in the same way adults hope to win El Gordo, which is the big Christmas jackpot. For this reason, the square is full of vendors selling lottery and people waiting in line for hours just to buy their ticket from Doña Manolita, which are believed to be luckier than the rest.
Plaza Mayor de Madrid
Only a hop, skip, and a jump from Sol lies another major holiday destination in the city: Plaza Mayor. It’s here where every year booths take over the square as the mercado navideño — or Christmas market — sets up shop for the holiday season. The main items sold are Christmas trees and ornaments, and especially figurines and accessories for nativity scenes, the word in Spain for which is Belén. Just as families have typically had a Christmas tree in English-speaking countries, the traditional Christmas decoration in Spain was always a Belén, though perhaps trees are now just as common. It’s traditional to add more characters, structures, and so forth to the nativity scene each year just as one would do with ornaments on a tree.
While browsing through the Christmas market, however, one can certainly build up an appetite. Thus, as is traditional in Plaza Mayor, many people take a moment to have a classic bocadillo de calamares, or calamari sandwich, often with a cold beer or other beverage of choice. Although this particular food is not specifically for the holidays and is served all year, the fact that so many people go to Plaza Mayor at Christmastime make it somewhat of a holiday tradition to have one.
After taking a stroll through Sol and checking out the market in Plaza Mayor, it’s definitely time to head to the back side of the El Corte Inglés building on Calle Preciados to witness a grand Christmas tradition: Cortylandia. Every year this large department store sets up a show with larger-than-life mechanized figures, complete with lots of movement and music. The show is different every year, but the main title song is always the same, the refrain of which is ¡Cortylandia! ¡Cortylandia! — something you’ll find yourself singing for days afterwards. Although Cortylandia is intended for children, seeing it will make you feel like a child again for a few minutes — and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?