|Olentzero - watercolour, pencil & pen sketch - Wilma Simmons|
I admit I had not heard of this well loved but strange Christmas character before researching for this blog This big fellow is well loved at least by Basques - Who? Where?
The Basques are indigenous to and mostly live in an area traditionally known as Basque country, a region which is located around the west of the Pyrenees on the coast of Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north -central Spain and south western France. But who is Olentzero?
There are quite a few versions of his story and how he is related to Christmas, but I like this one....
Each year at Christmas, Basque villagers create an image of Olentzero , usually a papier mache or a wooden carved figure. Olentzero is characteristically dressed in the traditional peasant farmer's garb of dark pants tucked into socks below the knees; leather, rope tied shoes; a dark overshirt , a black beret, and a smoking pipe.
It's worth mentioning a couple of the other beliefs surrounding Olentzero which make him a rather curious Christmas celebrity. A common belief is that Olentzero was the last of a race of mythical giants, who all, exceot him, threw themselves off a mountain when they heard about the birth of Jesus Christ, I also found a rather strange Christmas song which alludes to Olentzero eating whole ten piglets in one sitting. However, in all the various Basque village stories and songs, Olentzero remains a revered Christmas figure, who epitomises goodness and kindness, especially towards children.