A Christmas Walk through Tradition
Shopping for a nativity scene at the Christmas market and visiting Los Reyes Godos
Christmas is just around the corner so I’m going to suggest a typical walk that we madrileños like to do before Christmas Eve. Though I lived abroad for a while, I can say with honor that I know my city quite a bit and I’d like to share a little of it with you.
A madrileño Christmas begins at Plaza Mayor
The Christmas tree has slowly been adopted by the city’s inhabitants but I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t have anything to do with us. Our own tradition is to set up a nativity scene or in Spanish, el belén. So if you’d like to celebrate the season the way locals do, set aside a little space at home and start your figurine hunting at Plaza Mayor, the biggest market of Nativity figurines in the world.
Don’t buy your figurines in a shop. You need to go to Plaza Mayor. It’s a must! Try to avoid the peak hours, but if you can’t, just fill up on patience and enjoy the thick crowd. If you’re bringing kids, you can be sure that they’ll enjoy it.
The first thing you need is a cavern or a crèche to set up what we call la Natividad, which consists of Mother Mary, Father Joseph, little Jesus, the ox and the mule. That’s the nitty-gritty of it. Then you can start adding things: an angel, the star, as many shepherds as you wish, houses, castles, vegetation, a river and a fisherman, a washerwoman, the Three Wisemen, etc.
Please avoid getting that horrible eschatological figurine typical from Cataluña called the caganet.
Aperitivos in Mercado San Miguel
From Plaza Mayor, make a first stop for a beer or a wine and some snacks at Mercado de San Miguel. It will also be very crowded but you need to see and enjoy the nice refurbishing of this ancient market.
The current Mercado de San Miguel was built at the beginning of the 20th century, following the style of the markets in Paris with big glass and iron buildings like the Eiffel. The whole structure of the market has been exquisitely revised and refurbished with each of its 33 stands individually designed depending on its use.
The market serves as a gastronomy point for Madrid, selling refined goods but also allowing people to have snacks, drinks and even complete meals. The stands I like the best are Daniel Sorlut which sells oysters, La Casa del Bacalao, Patatas Fritas La Santamaría and Paella y Olé. The market is open from Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00.
Lunch at Casa CiriacoFrom there take Calle Mayor for a nice little walk and head to Casa Ciriaco on Calle Mayor, 84. This is a genuine, classic restaurant in Madrid. They claim to have been in business for almost a century and always run by the same family. You won’t find fancy modern eating here but you will enjoy traditionally true madrileño cuisine, from callos a la madrileña to cochinillo. Quite a heavy digestion but very good for these cold days.
Winding down at Plaza de OrienteIf you still have energy, continue walking from Calle Mayor towards Plaza de Oriente.
You can visit the Palacio Real or just wander around the plaza examining the statues of the Gothic kings who reigned in Spain from the end of the Roman Empire until the arrival of the Moors and just realize the weird names they had.
At one time, schoolchildren had to learn all 33 names by heart. In fact, the concept of “la lista de los Reyes Godos” has remained in popular culture as a symbol of something absurd that one is forced to memorize.
About Almu de la Peña
After traveling and living abroad for more than ten years, I came back to my city and started an exciting a rewarding blogging activity together with my sister called My LIttle Madrid. It's about our little Madrid environment: what we like, what we do and where we go. It is a personal view of the city with many tips and special hangouts, not included in traditional guides, that we felt could help outsiders in their way through Madrid.