San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and the public holiday which coincides with this festival is on 15th May although a range of varied events take place from the Friday before the 15th when the Mayor’s speech begins proceedings and continue until the following Sunday when there is the cooking of an enormous Cocido Madrileño (Madrid’s most traditional dish).
As well as being the city’s main annual cultural celebration, the San Isidro Festival is also the main event on Madrid’s bullfighting calendar which attracts all the top bullfighters and bull breeders. If you’re planning on a visit you should try to get tickets well in advance as every night at the Las Ventas bullring sells out.
On the day of May 15th many Madrileños dressed in traditional gear head for Plaza Mayor where there is traditional dancing and open air concerts. Casa de Campo, the large park to the south west of the centre, hosts rock concerts during the fiestas and there are varied events throughout the city.
A interesting anecdote regarding Madrid’s traditional dress …. In Spanish if someone is described as “chulo” it’s quite a derogatory term meaning that they’re full of themselves. Madrileños are often described as “chulo” by people from other parts of Spain. The name of the traditional Madrileño costume is a “chulapo” which comes from the word “chulo”.
Around the streets of central Madrid you’ll see organ grinders (barquilleros) in their San Isidro costumes selling traditional sweet snacks called “barquillos”. Although San Isidro was historically a religious celebration of the generosity of San Isidro (a poor farmer) and his wife, Santa Maria de la Cabeza, in giving food to the poor, it is now a excuse for great festivities. This turnaround has been the case in most national festivals. Viva España!