Olentzero Night in the Basque country


– I don´t know, I left it on your bed along with your black shirt, the ship skin and your blue bandana. Lucas, you better find the beret fast, I am leaving in five minutes. Girls are you ready?

– No, mam is getting my hair done, just one more minute. Can I ask you for a favor? I forgot to press my apron. Could you pleasssssse?

– I have already done it!

Eskerrik asko, dad!

– You know family, we are going to be late to welcome OLENTZERO!

Olentzero is coming home tonight

traveling steps olentzero

This is how many homes in the Basque Country sound every December 24th at 7:30 in the afternoon. It is the moment to get ready for the Basque Christmas Parade, a very special Xmas parade. There are no huge Spiderman balloons, not a trace of the Rockettes, and for sure, you will not find any marching bands… Here the parade is a bit more, let’s say “rural”, but let me start from the beginning.

As the Basque culture is a pre-Roman civilization, most of our traditions are based in mythology. The belief here is that Mother Nature (Amalur) created the world, and the humans. When Amalur saw the beauty of those weak creatures, she created different fairies, elves and goblins to protect them. For example, the Lamias, half woman-half duck, will take care of the rivers. A big tall creature called Basajaun will protect the forest. Everything was going fine until the end of the summer, because as you know “Winter is coming…

At the beginning of the fall, Amalur realized that humans would need the warmth of the fire (gar) in order to survive the cold months in the Pyrenees. She invited an old, chubby man, called Olentzero, to live in the mountains and prepare charcoal for the humans, in return he would be friends with all the animals in the forest

Olentzero is a humble shepherd with a heart of gold, who spends a lot of time by himself up in the mountains. To entertain himself, he carves little toys with the left-over wood. By the time he brings the charcoal to the villages, he has thousands of little toys that gives to the kids.

 As you can imagine, Olentzero is our Santa Claus. He arrives in every village on Christmas Eve, and beside the gifts, he brings his friends along. As I told you, his friends are the animals in the forest, so our Christmas parade is an animal parade. We welcome in town cows, donkeys, geese, wild pigs, etc.… As a sign of respect to him, we all dress up as shepherds.

 The boys´ look are quite simple, either a big black shirt, a (fake) ship skin vest, a navy-blue bandana and ofcourse the Basque beret, or a thick red and blue cardigan and the beret. The girl’s outfit is a bit more complicated. It starts with heavy wool stockings, a white petticoat under a black and white skirt, then a black apron. A matching black and white blouse goes under a vest. Plus, two bandanas, one over the shoulders, and the other is worn on the head as a simple turban. Lately we have more colorful customs for the girls, now we even have shepherd fashion trends…

 Everywhere around the world people dress up for Xmas Eve, they go to mass all fancy wearing their brand-new outfit. Here in the Basque Country we dress down, and let’s not forget that the first people who visited baby Jesus were the shepherds. Maybe our Olentzero was one of those shepherds.

If you want to read more about Christmas in the BAsque country, here is a link to a couple of articles we have writen. Cooking Polvorones & It is beguining to look a lot like Xmas

If you want to learn a little bit more of the Olentzero tradition and at the same time visit my Home Town of Pamplona, check this virtual tour. Merry Christmas! FELIZ NAVIDAD!