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Folklore and Traditions: Winter Fiestas
Taken from "Folklore and Traditions", one of the series of "The Basque Country, Come and then pass the word" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Angel Murua, Published by: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo.
According to Basque tradition, death does not break family ties, but rather the memory of the deceased person lives on in the ancient rites such as the lighting of argizaiolak - thin candles which are wound round pieces of shaped wood - which keeps alive the spirit of the dead of every family. In this way the winter celebrations begin, with All Saints day on 1st November. In communities such as Amezketa in Gipuzkoa, the argizaiolak light up the tombs during the Main Mass, creating a truly magical atmosphere.
From the deat to the living, and children are the protagonists in the Feast of Saint Nicholas as in many European Countries. Groups of children, amongst whom on ewill be dressed as teh Bishop the day is named after, make their way through the streets of communities such as Legazpi and Segura, in Gipuzkoa, singing songs about the Saint and the legend built up around him.
Before Christmas, two agricultural shows bring together the people of Gipuzkoa: the Santa Lucia Fair in Zumarraga, 13th December, and the Saint Thomas Fair in Donostia-San Sebastian. This latter is an annual commemoration of the day when peasants came to the town to pay their taxes and sell their best-quality produce.
Christmas in the Basque Country is heralded by Olentzero, a rather rascally, simple-looking charcoal burner who was the first to hear the good news, and who reminds us of similar characters of pre-Christian Europe.
Christmas Eve is celebrated in a special way in the vilalge of Labastida in Alava. Here, groups of shepherds, captained by a "Cachimorro", and draped in pelts, recite ancient versus and perform simple dances, which probably recall the ancient staged Midnight Masses.
But the most important festivities of the winter are the carnivals. In Gipuzkoa, carnival time is announced by the tinkers' strange processions which imitate the nomadic wanderings of the gypsies who used to come to these areas over the carnival period, with their shows and skill in tin-smithery. In places such as Donostia-San Sebastian or Tolosa, the rowdy tinkers "all the way from Hungary", arrive on the Saturday after 2nd February every year.
In Bizkaia too they remember the gypsy bands who arrived for the carnival - in the Zagari Dantza of Markina-Xemein, for example, which include a bear and its tamer among the dancers. There are many similar vestiges of rural carnival which the Basque Country has preserved. In Gipuzkoa, at the foot of Txindoki, one of the most beautiful mountains of this region, the youngsters of the two little communities of Amezketa and Abaltzisketa dance round the houses in an attempt to stir the goodwill and generosity of their neighbors. They are called txantxoak. In Zalduaondo, in Alava, the main character of the fiesta is a dummy, markitos, who, year after year is judged, convicted and put to death.
The central character of the fiesta of Oyon-Oion, in Alava, on the 22nd January, is curious too. This is the cachi, dressed in yellow and green, who preforms a tumbling routine beneath a flag which is being waved.
The town carnivals are more cosmopolitan, more universal. The rowdiest and most popular of them all in the Basque Country, and in which most people participate, is that of Tolosa, which comes to a climax on Carnival Sunday, with floats, processions, groups of people (often dressed identically), and thousands of participants who in their costumes, are wholly anonymous.
Season of Winter Fiestas
Amezketa: All Saints Day Fiesta: Argizaiolak, 1st November, Main Mass, Church of San Bartolome.
Segura: Saint Nicholas Obispillo, 6th December, at dusk, in the streets of the town.
Zumarraga: Santa Lucia Fair, 13th December, all day, particularly in the morning.
Donostia-San Sebastian: Saint Thomas Fair, 21st December, all day, Plaza de la Constitucion. Tinkers: Saturday after 2nd February, at dusk in the Gros district, and procession of Iñudes and Artzaias from 10pm in the Plaza de la Constitucion, Old Town. Sunday after the Tinkers. From 11 am, procession along the Boulevard, round the Old Town and the Plaza de la Constitucion.
Bilbao: Saint Thomas Market in the Plaza Nueva, 12st December.
Azpeitia: Saint Thomas, 21st December.
Labastida: The shepherds' gifts on Christmas Eve, 24th December, 7pm, Parish Church.
Abadiño: San Blas Fair, 3rd February.
Mundaka: Los Eratustes. February.
Tolosa: Carnival Sunday. From early morning throughout the whole day. Midday: floats and individual groups.
Zalduondo: Carnival Sunday. Burning of the Markitos. All day.