Madrid’s Day Off – Why? Part 1

Here’s the thing: Madrid has a local holiday.  Why?  The answer is easy; what isn’t easy is finding someone from Madrid who knows it. 

         Why?  Getting a straight a reliable explanation isn’t that simple either, but here’s what I think: because the honoree is an obscure religious figure from this city’s past and the decision to dedicate a day off to this person a vestige from a time when all holidays had to be created on some Christian basis.  It’s also what we call a back-up holiday.  In other words, Madrid needs 14 holidays a year.  When the main celebrations fall on a Sunday it never occurs to anyone to make an observance day on Monday.  They just say, “Tough luck.”

        Instead, what they do is that they resort to second level holidays to step in for the others when needed. 

        Allow me to put you out of your misery and divulge.  The name of our celebrated individual was a woman named Santa María de la Cabeza – which literally translates as St. Mary of the Head.  Knock off the wisecracks; this is a saint for Christ’s sake.  But yes, I will agree that the second of the name does stand out for its unusualness, though not half as much as the fact that most people inMadridhave never thought of it as so.  When you hear it for the first time, you laugh and point it out them and they start to chuckle themselves saying that they had never thought about that before. 

        “You’ve never thought about that before?  What if I went around telling people my name was Brian of the Toe?  Wouldn’t that strike them as out of the ordinary?  Wouldn’t the people from Madrid want to ask the same of their own saint?” 

        Obviously not.  These cultural oddities crop up all over the place, and in the States there are plenty.  In Sweden, for example, the issue is the color of their houses.  They are all red.  And the Swedes don’t know it.  I know this because when they give you directions they say things like, “Go down the road a mile or so and when you see a red house, turn left.”  Somehow, they are able to distinguish that one from the 30 other red houses you pass on the way.  Either that or they only see the redness in the ones they are looking for.         

        Something to that effect is what I think we have here…a tendency to add silly appendages to the Virgin Mary without any regard for how ludicrous it sounds.  You have the Virgin Mary of the O, I’m dead serious, or the Virgin Mary of the Pillar, which gets her name from the fact that Saint James witnessed her appearance in Zaragoza in 40AD during his travels through Spain…doubly miraculous considering he probably never set foot in this country, by the way.  Anyway, the story goes Mary appeared to him in one of his lowest moments when he felt he would never get the pagan world to convert to Christianity.  She gave him a column with a statue of her on the top in hopes it would instill renewed inspiration in him and his followers, and asked that a church be built in that very spot.  It was and today is known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and it one of the most sacred temples inSpain.  Saint Mary of the Pillar is also the patroness of Spain. 

         That explains that Virgin Mary.  But who was Saint Mary of the Head?  Patience.  I’ll be back.

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