OLENTZARO


In the word Olentzaro, the suffix –aro tradicionally meant “season”. In the past, this word was related to the winter solstice but, nowadays, on the contrary, it is related to a famous Basque character. In many places of the provinces of Navarre and Gipuzkoa, Olentzaro is the name we give to a famous charcoal maker who lives in a hut in the mountains. In the night of Christmas Eve, when everybody sleeps, he gets into the houses through the chimneys to warm himself up; that’s why we must keep the chimney clean that day.


In some villages, the people walked round with a doll made of straw and cloth in the night of Christmas Eve and burner it in the streets. In some other place, a young man dressed up a charcoal maker and, he and other young men walked around the streets asking for money or food. The Christmas bonfires, the burning of a log (some other Christmas traditions), along with the burning of the Olentzaro doll, have something to do with fire and, like the festival of Faint John, they all seem to be rooted in the pagan celebrations of the solstice. Nowadays, Olentzaro has been adapted to Christianity. A song which says that Olentzaro announces the birth of Jesus is sung in many places.


At present, Olentzaro, is the person who brings their Christmas presents to the children and to the adults, like Father Christmas. This charcoal maker spends the whole year working in the forest, but, afterwards, at Christmas night, he goes from house to house with a sack full of presents making people happy. He has presents for those who behaved well all along the year, and, for the rest, just charcoal.