Monthly Archives: December 2011

Olentzero, the Basque Santa

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Basque children can´t complain when it comes to receiving presents…they get them from two sources: one is the Olentzero (on Dec 25), and the other one are the Three Wise Men or the Three Magic Kings (on Jan 6)…dates that are very conveniently separated in time.

The first character is the coalmaker that lives up in the woods in the Basque mountains, and descends to town to give presents to the children on Christmas Eve. He smokes in a pipe, is normally dressed in traditional costumes and wears a Basque beret. He even has a girlfriend, Maridomingi, that wears the weirdest hat…Originally he was not very smart, a big eater and drinker and his intentions towards children were not the best (I´m not talking about paedofilia here, it´s more crime and assassination….). And he smokes in pipe!!!!

Olentzero´s house can be visited and all kids are most welcome. It´s located in a very old farm house in the centre of Mungia and it´s like a Basque mythological theme park (in a very local and modest way) that shows Basque children an important part of our myths and legends, www.izenaduba.com.

Olentzero is part of the pre-Christian pagan traditions in the Basque Country, that lost its importance throughout the centuries and was rapidly substituted by the Three Magic Kings, the most popular present bearers in Spain. Nowadays both characters represent a peaceful conviviality in the innocent children´s minds, and both have their big parade in all towns prior to the magic night.

Basque Sports…Overly Popular Over the Centuries

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Basques are famous all over Spain because we are considered to be very strong (a myth? maybe…) and big lovers of traditions. That mixture is represented on Basque sports, that are mainly based on strength. There are dozens of sports that are regularly played in local leagues. The most known is Basque Pelota (handball), you´ll surely notice that there´s a frontón (wall for handball) in every Basque town, no matter its size. Pelota has many varieties, it´s played not only with the hands, but also with “palas” (a very narrow wooden racket), “cesta punta”, “xare”,…in long and short frontones. Some examples here and here

Also, rural sports such as stone lifting (in its many varieties, too, with different weights, sizes, shapes,…), Stone lifting or stone pulling (men, oxen or donkeys…), grass cutting, wood axe cutting, etc…, are played (and we love to bet on them) throughout the year and mostly in summertime at the town festivals. Something very interesting and a centuries old tradition. Video here (what sounds in the back is a traditional Basque instrument, the Txalaparta)

Another one very popular is the “estropadak” or “traineras”, that is, a rowing boat competition in open sea. There´s a league that starts in spring and ends in summer, and the most important competition takes place in September in the Concha estuary in San Sebastián. The winner gets a Flag (and money, too). Some videos here. We just love to keep traditions alive.