Olentzero – A Basque Christmas Tradition

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Over the last number of years, I have let my understanding of the Spanish language subside, mainly due to not using it. So I decided I would give it one more shot and see where it took me. I recently attended a conversational Spanish class in a busy Dublin city centre. The profesora gave us the challenge of talking about how we usually celebrate Christmas and what traditions we have, and we would present this to the class. All well and good. 

Now I need to mention that the profesora has lived in the Basque region of Bilbao for quite some time before moving to Dublin so when it was her time to talk about how she and her family celebrate Christmas, my eyes lit up! There are so many differences to how the Irish celebrate the few days, however, everything is centred around the family. Which is the right way, I suppose.

One of the biggest surprises for me is the Basque tradition of Olentzero – 
the equivalent of Santa Claus in the Basque Country. Olentzero lives or lived (depending on what you believe) in the mountains, is a coal miner and descends to town to give presents to the children on Christmas Eve. He smokes a pipe, is normally dressed in traditional costumes and wears a Basque beret. If you are bad, it is believed that you receive a piece of coal from Olentzero. Better than a Playstation 4 so! 
In modern celebrations during the Christmas season, children dress in traditional peasant garb and parade through the streets with an adult-sized representation of Olentzero while singing humorous songs written in the mythical figure’s honor. It’s also a fairly common practice to hand out candy and treats to the costumed children, similar to the manner in which Halloween is celebrated. 

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Camino 2015 – Day 0 – Dublin to Belorado

I woke up this morning thinking everything was going to go wrong. You name it, it was going to happen. But I was wrong happily. My flight wasn’t delayed, my bus from Bilbao to Belorado was on time and I arrived in Belorado with a bed and meal waiting for me. I need to relax more often! The flight was perfect and I arrived in Bilbao early if anything. I probably shouldn’t have checked my bags in but hey! I’ll know that for next time. It saves time. There were plenty of Irish on the flight Camino – bound. It was easy to spot them. Look for the zip off cargo pants!!

I arrived into Bilbao and caught a feeder bus to Termibus just like I did in 2013. It takes 25 minutes approx so I needed to get this. Once I got to Termibus, I bought a ticket for bus to Haro and another from Haro to Belorado. Complicated or what? Anyway,  I got into Belorado after 7pm and was greeted by a very nice couple at Casa Waslala. I took up the advice of one of my blog followers and I’m glad I did. I loved it. Now to head to bed as I want to be up early for a walk to Ages or Atapuerca. Let’s see where the legs take me! Until tomorrow!

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Camino 2013 – Day 0 – Dublin to Logrono

I’m here. At last. After a year’s dreaming, I’ve touched down on Spanish soil. Delighted is not the word.
I woke up at 5am after about 1 hours sleep, and made it to Dublin Airport. I was almost too early but it was good to meet other travellers on the same flight. I met a group of kids from Wexford with their teacher. The teacher was looking forward to getting going but commented that the lads were going to have a hard time (some were wearing jeans). On the plane, I was sitting beside a couple also going to walk the Camino, well a stretch like myself. Eventually we took off and the flight itself was fine but there was some low lying cloud as we came into Bilbao. It was very hard to see anything as I looked out the window and it was a little daunting for a minute or two. An ovation from the plane’s passengers showed how nervous we all were. But Bilbao is something else altogether. I’d move here in a heartbeat. Miles and miles of green over mountains, valleys and rivers. Some of the views were astounding. We were greeted by Basque signs and words that would win you major points in a game of scrabble. Castellean Spanish is not the official language here. The Guggenheim, Plaza Moyua, I wouldn’t mind coming here again for a weekend to get a closer look.

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I met more Irish folks once I got off the flight. Again, they came to walk parts of the Camino. A couple and their daughter from Meath were starting from Puente la Reina and ending in Ponferrada. They would travel with me to the Termibus Station but jump on the Pamplona bus, which isn’t too far from Puente la Reina. I waved goodbye to the teacher and her class also as they had a bus pre-booked. I can only assume she is their Spanish teacher. They were starting in Belorado and finishing in Carrion de Los a Condes, 5 days in total. I wished her luck keeping an eye on her class of 20. I couldn’t do it anyway.
After catching the reliable Bizkaibus shortly after arriving, we reached Bilbao city centre close to 5.30. I knew my bus to Logrono was not leaving until 8pm but I didn’t mind the wait. I said goodbye to the family from Meath and looked for somewhere to eat. There was no shortage of shops and restaurants around the Termibus Station so I grabbed a quick snack and went back to waiting. I needed a few things for the next morning also as nothing would be open when I had planned to leave. It wasn’t long before I realised that I had left a few items behind, and I let out a long sigh. But I double-checked if I had all the essentials; tablets, money, tickets, phone..all there! Good stuff!

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After a while, I jumped on the 8pm La Union Alvesa bus to Logrono. The language barrier made it difficult to understand the driver who snapped at his passengers on one or two occasions. Maybe he was having a bad day. We drove through sprawling countryside, the occasional river and into the region of La Rioja, famous for its wine. I’m spending the next few days here before I reach Palencia. Every field we passed had hundreds of vine trees, barely in their infancy. It’s a little too early to pick these grapes, maybe in August. I tried to ignore some of the towns I would be passing the next day, but I wasn’t having much luck.

In the end, I made it into Logrono just after 10pm Spanish time. It was getting dark and the city’s lights were on. I jumped in a taxi and had a decent conversation with the driver about the game which was on the radio at the time. That was easily the highlight of my day. I was happy to use some Spanish that I had learned over the last few months.

I found my hotel for the night soon after..the Pension Logrono. The owner was very courteous but had very limited English so it was a little funny trying to ask for the Wifi password. So now I need to catch a few hours sleep. I start my Camino tomorrow early and hope to reach Najera, 29km westwards. Hasta luego!!