#Navidad: Meet the Basque version of Santa Claus

#Navidad: Meet the Basque version of Santa Claus
Aiaraldea Gaur eta Hemen/ Flickr
In the run up to Christmas, The Local explains the unique history behind Spanish traditions in our own Advent calendar.

Move over Santa because there's a pipe-smoking, beret wearing, more rugged version of you living in northern Spain.

Those who spend time in Euskal Herria, the Basque area of northern Spain, during the run up to Christmas should look out for the Olentzero,  a pipe-smoking farmer-like figure who became the alternative to Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men for more militant Basque parents in the 1970s.

Nowadays he tends to work in partnership with his ‘foreign' present givers in most Basque households.

The legend behind Olentzero

The story goes that Olentzero began his life as an abandoned infant who is found by a fairy godmother.

After bestowing the child with the gifts of “strength, courage, and love,” the fairy leaves him with a childless couple who raise him as their own in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Olentzero whittles wooden toys and at Christmas comes down from the mountains to the villages to distribute his crafts among the children.

Then one day as he is taking the gifts to a nearby town he passes a house that is engulfed in flames and charges in to save all the children inside. After performing this heroic deed, however, he perishes in the flames.

But his fairy godmother grants him eternal life so that he can continue to make toys for all the Basque children.

You can see him represented by men wearing big beards and dressed up in traditional mountain costume with wooden clogs on their feet, topped off with a typical Basque beret.

He often carrys his toys in a charcoal sack or in the baskets of his mule and appears in town squares in the run up to Christmas. 


A Christmas display with Olenterzo and a pile of presents outside a school in the Basque Country. Photo: Jesus Gil Hernandez / Flickr

For more in our special Advent season click on the links below: 


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