I devoured one last napolitana de chocolate from La Mallorquina, the renowned bakery in the heart of Sol, before flying back home to the United States for the holidays. As I placed down my euros on the counter and proceeded to bite into the most delectable pastry in all of Madrid, I heard familiar music coming from Plaza Mayor. Spain always celebrates with incredible festivals, so I didn’t think too much of it. Seriously, if you haven’t been to Barcelona for La Merce, you should add this festival to your Spain itinerary immediately. Nevertheless, my curiosity got the best of me and I walked over to see what all the commotion was about. Having lived in Spain for a couple of years, I had become quite accustomed to Catholicism as the main religion of the country. I had visited Seville to watch the processions during Semana Santa and experienced Three King’s Day in January. So, I never could have imagined that I was about to have a truly memorable experience dancing the hora in the street with fellow Jews for Hanukkah.
Janucá in Madrid or Janucá en la Calle — #janucalle on Instagram — is an annual Hanukkah celebration held in Plaza de la Villa, which is conveniently and centrally located right next to the famed Plaza Mayor. The City Council of Madrid, the Jewish Community of Madrid and the Sepharad-Israel Centre all collaborate each year to put on this candle lighting event. Depending on which night of Hanukkah the celebration is held on that year, a certain number of candles are lit, the rabbi recites the Hanukkah blessings, and the traditional Hanukkah song “Maoz Tsur” is sung. There is a large stage set up in the plaza where the mayor or mayoress of Madrid gives a speech and various klezmer bands perform along with other musical groups. In past years, there have been performances by Jorge Rozemblum, Eduardo Paniagua, Gaia Danza, the Trotadanza Company, and the Sephardic music group Desvarietés. During the celebration, sufganiyot and tea is passed out to all of the public.
All of the attendees join in for traditional Israeli dancing which was perhaps the most exciting part of this entire evening. Here I was holding hands with a bunch of strangers dancing the hora which was entirely unexpected on so many levels. For one thing, I have never danced the hora for Hanukkah in my life. But, since it is pretty much the best part of any Jewish wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, I was more than happy to partake and dance my little heart out. And then there was the fact that the city of Madrid even puts on a public event to celebrate Hanukkah and I happened to be in earshot of the Jewish music. Madrid is the capital of Spain, so it’s quite a large city, and I could not believe my luck that I had been in the right place at the right time and was able to participate in the festivities.
So, if you happen to visit Spain during December, be sure to look up the date of the celebration and see if you can join in the festivities. You won’t regret it! And, if you are visiting Europe during Hanukkah, I highly suggest packing a travel menorah so you can light the candles and chant the Hanukkah blessings during your trip.