It is quite fun to be in another country & culture for the festive holidays…you get to witness a slightly different take on your accustomed proceedings. And so it was with the Christmas / New Year’s in Spain…The Spanish are on a wee bit of a different schedule with alternative ‘players’. December 23rd is the day that all the wee ones get to drop off their holiday wish list with Olentzero – the Basque version of Father Christmas or Santa Claus. He in no way resembles Santa Claus with a swarthy dark beard, beret (boina in Spanish) worn slightly a kilter, pipe in mouth and decked out in traditional Basque clothing. And apparently, in some interpretations (and there are many), he’s’ not nearly as nice as old Santa – the Basque tradition is to light a fire in the fireplace so that the heat & flames & smoke keep Olentzero from actually visiting your home.
But the ‘newer’ version has him more like the traditional jovial nice guy so the kids show up to present their wish lists & return on the 24th to see how they did. As it is the 24th of December in Basque country that the presents are exchanged. For the rest of Spain, it is the Three Kings Day on January 6th.
On the day & night of both the 23rd & 24th of December, there is LOTS of singing & dancing & eating & drinking and some pretty interesting costumes are paraded around the streets & squares. We live on Gizpukoa Plaza in the Casco Antiguo area of Hondarribia which is one of the epicentres for festive activities. Our square hosted a wee house where Olentzero could be found sitting inside, so the square was packed with little ones & parents and numerous singing groups, from full fledged choirs to a 6 man choral group. As you strolled around Hondarribia, you would come across random melodic cascades & folks dancing…quite magical really.