Welcome to our first Special episode of 22: La Fiesta de San Isidro! This fun holiday takes place in Madrid every May 8th - 15th and honors Saint Isidore, the city's patron saint, and María Torribia, his wife. I wanted to do this episode before the actual holiday begins so that, should you so desire, you could join in the festivities wherever you are by making rosquillas or even cocido madrileño! (Remember, since today's episode is a Special, we won't have a Cultural Tip this week.)
Who is San Isidro?
Named after Seville's St. Isidore, Madrid's St. Isidore (whom I'll refer to hereafter by his Spanish name, San Isidro) was born around 1070 AD in Madrid. While he came from a poor family, he worked his whole life for the wealthy landowner, Juan de Vargas, as a well digger and laborer. Clearly Isidro was a good laborer, as Juan made him his bailiff. He was a good, devout man who helped the poor as best he could. He married María Torribia (whom the Spanish also call Santa María de la Cabeza, or St. Maria of the Head. It's a bit of a weird name, but I'm assuming it's from affection as she is not an official saint.), and the two had a son.
Supposedly, San Isidro performed over a hundred miracles and people believe he had a special gift for finding water. One legend says San Isidro even caused a fountain of fresh water to appear when Juan de Vargas was thirsty. You can still drink from this fountain today, located next to La Ermita de San Isidro (we'll talk about that in a minute), and supposedly it has miraculous healing properties. Another legend says he and his wife prayed for their son's life when the child fell into a well, and in answer to their prayers the well's water rose up to ground level with their son safely afloat.
San Isidro is the patron saint of farmers and day laborers, as well as of places (including Madrid). Sometimes he is called San Isidro Labrador, or Saint Isidore the Laborer.
La Ermita de San Isidro
Also known as the Chapel of San Isidro, La Ermita has an interesting story. We know that the first chapel was built by 1499, although we don't know the exact date, and that Empress Isabel of Portugal constructed a new chapel in 1528 to honor San Isidro after her husband, King Carlos V and their son, King Felipe II, were healed by drinking the fountain's water. The oratory was rebuilt in 1724, which sadly caught fire in 1936 and had to be reconstructed in 1940-1941. Thankfully, they reconstructed it to match the 1724 style.
Today, they hold an outdoor mass near the Chapel on May 15th to celebrate San Isidro's Saint Day. Many will pilgrimage to the site and drink from the fountain as well. It's also a time to enjoy picnics at La Pradera, or the nearby San Isidro's meadow. This spot is very popular for the different festival events.
How do they celebrate in Madrid?
This holiday has been an official festival in Madrid since 1947, although the first festival was held on May 15, 1620. The mayor of Madrid gives a speech to start things off the Friday afternoon before the 15th, and the festival ends the following Sunday with the Cocido Madrileño, a huge public cookout of the city's traditional dish. True, technically Cocido is a popular dish across Spain, but Madrid takes pride in its own version of the meaty soup. We'll get more into the food, though, in a bit!
This holiday also begins Madrid's bullfighting season, so the best bullfighters and bull breeders come for the largest bullfighting event in the world!
Throughout the festival, there are many open-air concerts of all types of music, theater shows, dancing, delicious street food, and other events held for all ages.
Then, for a finale, they have fireworks around midnight in the Retiro Park!
If you'd like to see a video that kind of summarizes this particular festival, check out the one posted to YouTube by World Travelers Today.
Here are a few other highlights of the San Isidro Fiesta!
Gigantes Y Cabezudos (Giants and Big Heads)
There is a fun evening procession that takes place on May 11th where Madrileños parade through the city with giant statues of San Isidro and María Torribia, among other characters. Generally speaking, they can be divided into three categories: zaldikos (horsemen), cabezudos (good people) and kilikis (bad people). I've seen royalty and what looks like a pope, as well as average-looking citizens. You have two types in this procession - giant statues, that kind of look like giant puppets, and people wearing costumes with huge heads. You can check it out in the video below!
Chulapo/a, the Traditional Dress
The traditional dress of Madrid is called Chulapo, and it comes from the word chulo. Now, the word chulo in Spain has a different meaning than it does in Mexico or other countries, so be careful when using it. Chulo has a wide range of meanings, most of them negative, such as pimp, cocky, or brazen, although it can also be positive, like cool or great. Other Spaniards will often call Madrileños, or people from Madrid, chulo. But the word chulapo evolved in the 19th century and was originally used for working and lower-middle class people from Madrid's Maravillas and Malasañas neighborhoods. These particular people had a distinct style of clothing that flaunted, shall we say, their neighborhood pride. In other words, they were a bit cocky and liked to show it. :D Nowadays, however, the word chulapo refers to anyone from Madrid, rather than a specific neighborhood.
The chulapos, or men, wear black pants, a cap, and waistcoat, and place a carnation in their lapel and a handkerchief around their necks. The chulapas, or women, wear colorful, tight dresses that flare at the knees (they look a bit hard to walk in), puffed sleeves (reminds me a bit of Anne of Green Gables), a white headscarf around their head with red carnations, and elaborate mantillas (which are kind of like shawls, but much more fancy!).
Chulapos and chulapas take to the streets to dance the traditional Spanish dance, the chotis! Spain encountered this dance, and Madrid made it its own, in the 19th century. While the word chotis comes from the German word for a Scottish person, schottisch, the dance actually comes from Bohemia and resembles the polka. The woman spins the man around, who in turn must always face forward and does not move his feet, with the exception of the occasional three steps forward and three steps back. It's kind of a fascinating dance, because his feet don't move, but he spins as the woman spins him. Yeah.
You can check out the video below, which highlights the traditional chulapo/a attire while also showing you what the dance looks like! It's kind of neat, although as someone who enjoys dancing Lindy and Swing, it seems a bit too simple for my taste.
And of course I had to include a video that shows you how to actually do the dance! (Bonus - it is completely in Spanish! :D )
Let's talk about one of my favorite things regarding Spanish Fiestas: the food! I'll include links to different recipes throughout this section, as who doesn't love making different, hopefully tasty food! During la Fiesta de San Isidro, people enjoy eating different types of barquillos, which are sweet, thin, curled up wafers sold by barquilleros. (Interestingly, there are some barquilleros that will go around and you can "gamble" for a barquillo by paying to play roullette. Whatever the barquilleros' roullette wheel lands on, that is the number of sweets you get! I found a fascinating article on the history of this by the BBC - you should definitely check it out!) People also eat entresijos, or lamb mesentery (which is a fancy name for the lining around the lamb's organs) and gallinejas, or fried lamb intestine. Yum. I actually did find a recipe for these in Spanish, but I'll be honest, I'm not sure I'm up for trying these. :D Don't get me wrong, I would totally try them at a restaurant! I just don't know if I trust myself to cook them.
They also make an interesting version of limonada, or lemonade, that involves adding apples and wine. And there is, of course, the cocido madrileño that I mentioned earlier. While cocido is a traditional Spanish dish, there are variations across the country. Madrid has created their own unique style, one made up of chickpeas, meats, noodles, and vegetables. If you'd like to hear more on this dish, check out this article by CultureTrip! I found several recipes for this dish, including a traditionalish one in Spanish by Alfonso López from Recetas de Repuchetes, one in English from AllRecipes.com by Luis Luna, and another one in English from Spain Recipes. I would like to try this dish someday, albeit I'll have to really plan ahead. It looks a little intense!
But my favorite snack of the day is the rosquillas, which are doughnuts that you can get either glazed, or listas, plain, or tontas, covered in meringue, de Santa Clara, or with almonds, francesas, or even without a whole in the middle, ciegas (blind!). I think it's fitting that the glazed rosquillas are called "smart" and the plain ones "dumb" - after all, if you're going to indulge, why not get the extra sweetness? :D
I have found three recipes that look really good for rosquillas: one in English by 196 Flavors, which also goes into the history of, as well as the different flavorings and styles for, rosquillas; one by Mabel Mendez focused on just the Santa Clara version (in Spanish), and one in both English and Spanish by Blue Jellybeans that explains how to do the four basic types of rosquillas. Enjoy!
And that covers our first Special Episode of 2022, la Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid, Spain! Please let me know if you end up celebrating the occasion in any special way, and especially if you make any of the food! :D
Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.
¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!
© 2022 by Language Answers, LLC
Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr
"San Isidro" by ESMadrid.com, Madrid's official tourist website, last updated April 29, 2022
"Ermita de San Isidro" by ESMadrid.com, Madrid's official tourist website, last updated March 30, 2022
"San Isidro Madrid - Comparsa de GIGANTES Y CABEZUDOS DE MADRID - 2016" uploaded to YouTube by Cicerone TV, Viajes, cultura y buenos restaurantes, on May 18, 2016
"La Pradera de San Isidro in Madrid Spain" uploaded to YouTube by Samuel Garza on May 21, 2019
"San Isidro Festival 2022" by Rove.Me, last updated April 5, 2021
"San Isidro Festival" by Spanish Fiestas
"Clase para aprender a bailar el chotis como un auténtico castizo" uploaded to YouTube by El HuffPost on May 14, 2015
"Chotis Madrid, Madrid, Madrid" uploaded to YouTube by Doriroga on May 16, 2018
"San Isidro 2020: Receta de entresijos y gallinejas" by Gemma Meca for OK Diario on May 15, 2020
"Gallinejas and Entresijos: The Melancholic Mesentery of Madrid" from Vittles, piece written by Abbas Asaria and posted September 13, 2021
"Cocido Madrileño: The Stew That Has Sustained Madrid for 600 Years" by Lidia Molina Whyte for CultureTrip.com on January 17, 2020
"Cómo hacer un cocido madrileño de manera tradicional y fácil" by Alfonso López from Recetas de Recupetes
"COCIDO MADRILEÑO" from Spain Recipes
"How To Make Barquillos" uploaded to YouTube by Savor Easy on March 26, 2019
"Barquillos: Spain's unique street food roulette" by Jessica Vincent for the BBC on October 22, 2020
"Limonada madrileña" by Angela CM for Conocer Madrid on March 2, 2013
"Rosquillas" by Renards Gourmets for 196 Flavors
"Rosquillas Santa Clara" by Mabel Mendez on Pasteles de Colores
"Rosquillas de San Isidro" by Blue Jellybeans on May 18, 2011