Spain has two public holidays in early December which often form a “puente” (bridge), allowing workers in the country to enjoy an extended break before Christmas. Why are these two days “festivos” in Spain?
Published: 2 December 2022 14:16 CET
December 8th is meant to be the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin and also marks the date of The Battle of Empel. Painting: Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
In 2022, December 6th and 8th fall on a Tuesday and Thursday respectively, which means that workers in Spain can take off three days from their annual holiday leave and get a total of nine days off in a row.
It’s one of the many ‘holiday bridges’ (known as puentes in Spanish) that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
They are non-replaceable national holidays, meaning that regional governments cannot swap them for other days, which essentially guarantees that they’re public holidays across the country’s 17 regions and two autonomous cities.
That also explains why most shops in Spain will be closed on those days.
So why is it that Spain has two public holidays so close to Christmas?
December 6th – Constitution Day
On December 6th 1978, millions of Spaniards voted in favour of the country’s first democratic constitution during a referendum, the culmination of Spain’s transition to democracy after decades under Franco’s dictatorship.
The magna carta was checked by Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela and it’s one of Europe’s least reformed constitutions, having only been changed on a couple of occasions in its history.
Since 1983, every December 6th has been a public holiday in the country.
There are no big air shows or military parades as during Spain’s National Day on October 12th, but people in Spain’s capital can visit the Spanish Parliament and Senate for free on El Día de la Constitución.
December 8th – Immaculate Conception Day
As you may have guessed from the name, Spain’s el Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception Day) is a public holiday with religious origins.
The origin of this celebration can be traced back to the mid-19th century and Pope Pius XI, who wanted to commemorate the birth of the Virgin Mary.
According to the Catholic Church, La Virgen María was born on September 8th, therefore they subtracted nine months to make the day of her immaculate conception December 8th.
In Spain, this day also marks the date of The Battle of Empel, also known as the Miracle of Empel (El Milagro de Empel in Spanish).
It was an unexpected Spanish victory in 1585 in the Netherlands as part of the Eighty Years’ War, where a greatly outnumbered and surrounded Spanish force near the village of Empel won against its Dutch enemies.
Prior to battle, a Spanish soldier who was digging a trench allegedly unearthed a painting of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, seen by Spanish troops as a sign from God. A sudden drop in temperatures meant that Dutch ships were trapped in by frozen water and Spaniards could attack and beat them in battle, confirming the divine intervention.
In 1892 Maria Cristina of Austria, Queen Regent of Spain, proclaimed Mary of the Immaculate Conception patroness of the entire Spanish Infantry, and thus December 8th became a public holiday in Spain.