While Julie and I were excited to spend the holiday season in Madrid, we didn’t truly comprehend how much this city embraces the Christmas spirit.

Nuestro piso en Madrid Nuestro piso en Madrid

We checked into our month-long AirBnB just over a week ago. Like our visit earlier this year, we are staying in the La Latina neighborhood. This is probably a poor comparison, but it feels a bit like staying in SoHo or the meat packing district in Manhattan: tons of culture in the neighborhood, but a wee bit away from the main tourist attractions. We love our little studio apartment, even though we each still manage to periodically bump our heads on the ceiling as we climb into our loft bed.

Enjoying the Christmas crowd in one of Madrid's many plazas Enjoying the Christmas crowd in one of Madrid’s many plazas

Our arrival coincided with a national holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Our wanderings that first weekend to Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and other big plazas made us feel like everyone from metro Madrid (maybe 5-6 million people?) had decided to wander into the city center. The lights and decorations are so festive that we don’t mind the crowds.

A Belen in Madrid A Belen in Madrid

Julie has been finding as many Beléns for us to visit as she can find. These are nativity scenes writ large, usually focusing on the entire story of the nativity in Bethlehem and not just the manger scene (hence the name Belén, which means Bethlehem). These must be very popular for families to construct in their homes because we’ve seen many stalls selling miniatures, live mossy grass patches, big chunks of tree bark (to represent cliff sides and similar terrain), and buildings.