One of the most interesting things about moving to a new country is discovering the public holidays and festivals that they celebrate, and seeing how they differ from the ones in your home country. It’s particularly interesting to discover their unique holidays and celebrations, which form a large part of that particular countrys culture and traditions.
One such public holiday that is celebrated only in the municipality of Madrid is “Nuestra Señora de la Almudena”, or “Day of the Almudena”, which usually falls on 9th November. This is a very important and traditional day for the people of Madrid. Most shops and businesses close for the day, in order to join in with various celebrations across the city.
The History of La Almudena
The origin of La Almudena dates back to the 8th Century. Legend states that during the year 712 the then village of Madrid was under threat of a Muslim invasion. Fearing for their churches and contents, the townspeople hid a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in a niche within the city walls. The statue remained here for almost 4 centuries whilst Muslims invaded and occupied Madrid.
During the eleventh century, in the year 1085 the city was reconquered by Christian troops, led by King Alfonso VI. The Christians wanted to recover the image of the Virgin, but after almost 400 years were unsure of its exact location.
However, during a procession to give thanks to God for his assistance with taking back the city, a miracle occurred. Whilst passing a walled area known as “the al-mudanya”, part of the wall collapsed in front of the King, revealing the statue still intact and fully preserved. Legend also claims that the candles either side of the statue were still burning.
Since this day, the Virgin of the Almudena has been the patron saint of Madrid. The statue can still be seen today, inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Almudena.
How is La Almudena Celebrated Today?
Whilst for many people, La Almudena is just another public holiday involving a day off work, many people still uphold the religious background, and show their devotion to the Virgin.
Celebrations begin with a large outdoor mass at 11:00am, which takes place at Plaza Mayor. Many people wear traditional clothing – brightly coloured capes and gowns, known as chulapos and chulapas. The statue is then carried in a procession around the area, which anyone can join, before being brought back to the Cathedral where the procession finishes. Many people then continue to lay flowers here throughout the day, as an offering to honor the Virgin, creating a beautiful aroma that permeates the streets.
As this is a no-work day for most madrileños, they continue to spend the day outdoors in their traditional garb, spending time with family and friends and enjoying the day. It is also common for people to enjoy a special pastry dish on this day, las coronas de la Almudena. These are a soft, spongy, sweet dough-based pastry, often with a cream or custard filling. These pastry dishes were invented by Madrid bakers back in 1978, again in honor of the Virgin, who is also the patron saint of bakers for Madrid.
Whatever your reasons for celebrating La Almudena, religious or not, this is a day of celebrations dating back to the origins of the city that will most likely be around for a while to come. So remember that Monday is a free day, join in with the locals and experience this traditional holiday that forms a huge part of Madrids culture.
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