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Folklore and Traditions: Summertime
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.
After the summer solstice we are in full fiesta season, the months in which most patron saints' days of Basque communities are celebrated, including in the three capitals, which usually enjoy the protection of a notable saint or the Virgin Mary, who is venerated by all the towns and villages.
On Saint Isabel's day, on 2nd July, a very special romeria is held in the lovely setting of the Hermitage "de la Antigua", in Zumarraga. Dancers inside the hermitage perform the Ezpatadantza "de la Antigua", first on their knees and then on foot, dance in front of the image of the Virgin, making amazing movements with their daggers.
The fiesta of the Virgin of the Carmen, on 16th July, is one in which the sea plays an important role. In Santurtzi, for example, a procession of boats of all types, suitably decked out, escorts the Virgin of the Carmen on her annual trip up the Estuary of the Nervion. The dispute which Bermeo commemorates, starting on 22nd July, is also markedly marine. The people of Bermeo are locked in an ancient dispute with Mundaka over the ownership of the isle of Izaro, and as a symbol of their sovereignty of the island they throw a tile into the sea, and then set sail, forming a cortege of boats which gets ever bigger as it passes neighbouring ports.
Santiago is a particularly revered saint. In Garay the people dance the ezpatadantza and the erregelak or aurresku in front of his image. On the following day, Saint Anna, these same dances are performed by older villagers and the women join in on the fiesta with their soka dantza. In Ordizia the famous aurresku of the "santaneros" is danced by newly weds (married during the course of the year).
August is the true month of fiestas, when the "Great Weeks" take place in the three Basque capitals, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao. The Vitorians start the ball rolling, on the 4th August, with the "La Blanca" fiestas in honour of the Virgin Blanca which involve, among other things, the racket made by its many groups, the "blusas". Then the Semana Grande of Donostia-San Sebastian takes over, with its fireworks, and finally it is the turn of the riotous, bull-oriented Aste Nagusia of Bilbao.
But the festivities do not end with the spectacular celebrations of the capitals; in Lanestosa on 6th August there is a procession of dancers with flowery arches, in honour of the Virgin "de la Nieves", and on San Roque's Day the villagers of Pipaon, also in Alava, perform a dance which recalls an old "paloteado", in which the dancers bang poles in time to the music. On the Eve of San Roque they dance the Capuchin round a bonfire, a dance with which everybody joins in. San Roque is honoured in Deba with an ezpatadantza of their own. And one of the most notable ezpatadantza of all those preserved in Basque folklore is that which is danced at the Arretxinaga hermitage of Markina-Xemein, round some mysterious rocks which are sometimes used as an altar.
Berriz: Espatadantza, San Pedro. 29th June.
Zumarraga: "La Antigua" Espatadantza, 2nd July, mid-morning. In
"La Antigua" hermitage.
Ordizia: Aurresku of the "Santaneros", 27th July, in the morning.
Vitoria-Gasteiz: Festival in honour of the "Virgen Blanca" 4th August.
Lanestosa: Procession and dance with arches covered in flowers. 5th August, in the morning.
Donostia-San Sebastian: "Semana Grande". Fiestas based on the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin. 15th August. Fiesta of 31st August: at twilight the street "31 de Agosto" is lit up with candles.
Bilbao: Aste Nagusia, Great Week. First Saturday after 15th August (The Virgin Mary).
Lekeitio: Antzar Joku/The goose games. 4th September, at the harbour, early afternoon.
Elciego: Procession and dances of the Virgin of the Square, 8th September, at midday.
Zarautz: Basque Fiesta, "Euskal Jaia", 9th September, all day.