Every May 15th, Madrid celebrates one of its most beloved holidays, the day of the capital's patron saint—San Isidro Labrador. The popular week-long San Isidro Festival is honoring the saint with a packed program of events featuring concerts, shows, and a range of activities for all ages. The main highlight of the festival is the massive celebration in the Pradera de San Isidro Park, offering a unique chance to see many ordinary Madrid residents dressed up in traditional clothes and dancing el chotis dance.
The first San Isidro Festival took place on May 15th, 1620, in Plaza Mayor. Festivities lasted for eight days. The tradition lives on, as the festival's official opening still takes place in the center of the city. Crowds gather on Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Villa to witness Gigantes y Cabezudos, the parade of giant puppets. The procession heads from the Plaza Santo Domingo and passes through the main streets of Madrid, finishing at Plaza de la Villa. The next three days feature many concerts, marching brass bands, contemporary pop and rock performers, theater performances, and dance shows.
San Isidro Day also features many religious activities, including a special mass at the Colegiata de San Isidro and the blessing of the water from the fountain. Hundreds of believers fill the vessels with water from the holy spring. Afterward, many Madrileños have picnics on the hillsides of La Pradera.
San Isidro Festival offers a glimpse into a bygone era, as the streets get filled with women in flared dresses and veils while men wear checkered waistcoats and flat hats. It's common for women to decorate their hair with a red carnation, and the Caballeros attach a flower to the lapel. Special dishes for this day include small doughnuts, Rosquillas, and a limonada drink made with fruit, wine, and sugar.