No sheep family story today, but a custom found on the Spanish side of Basque Country at this time of year.  Olentzero brings gifts to good children late on December 24, in some parts of Basque Country, such as Ochagaira-Otsagabia, he comes on December 27th and in Ermua, it is December 31st.  Just knowing that he comes on different days in the villages helps explains that the story about him varies widely from village to village.  The first written account of Olentzaro dates to the 17th century.  Onentzaro was the earliest form of the word meaning “good” (onent) and “season” (zaro).  It may be older than Christmas as it corresponds to the feast held at the winter solstice.

During the reign of Franco (1939-1975) the tradition was banned as it was a symbol of regional separatism.  Franco was no friend to the Basque people.  But, that history has already been documented by others.  A good book to read on the Basque is called “The Basque History of the World” by Mark Kurlansky.  I highly recommend the book as there is much more to the Basque people and culture than most people know!

Getting back to Olentzero, he is a giant as the story is usually told.  On what ever day in your village he visits, you leave a pair of shoes out, but they cannot be left in a bathroom or bedroom.  The next day, children find presents left beside the shoes.

Now, granted there is more to Olentzero and the various stories that surround his being, but that will suffice for today.  Maybe one of my Basque friends can enlighten us with more on the story!

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