ES  Lacunza IH San Sebastián

Olentzero, Santa Claus’ basque cousin

There are lots of different Christmas traditions all around the world: the British  kids receive presents from Santa Claus,  French from Papa Noël, Brazilian from Bom Velhinho and Russian  from Ded Moroz.

Children in San Sebastián and in Basque Country, just like many other kids  across the world, are struggling to stay asleep,  way to excited because they know somebody will visit them that night, someone very special and very important: Olentzero!


Olentzero is a coal merchant who lives isolated in the Basque Mountains along with his wife Mari Domingi.
Every 24th of December, he goes down the mountain and goes all over Basque cities and villages to deliver presents to children – but only the ones who have been good during the past year.

Despite it all, just a few lucky ones have been able to observe Santa Claus and they describe him as an old man with a big beard, the face covered with coal and with a huge belly. There’s no secret that Olentzero is a bon vivant and a big eater, so  any plate of food or glass of cider you’d consider leaving on Christmas Eve  would be highly appreciated and would help him to build up his strength and go ahead with his exhausting round.

Olentzero, just like his northern cousins ( Papa Noël and Santa Claud) comes down  the chimney. Don´t get scared if you let the fire burning all night long, Olentzero won’t get burnt  thanks to his magical powers.

There are lots of theories about the origin of the Olentzero’s name, one of them is that it would come from the words Ona ( good in Basque Language), antz ( towards) and aro (period of time) – in that way Olentzero would represent the winter solstice.

Olentzero is so famous  that he has his own song -  very popular among basque children. Here are  the lyrics and the translation in English.

“Olentzero joan zaigu

mendira lanera


ikatz egitera.

Aditu duenian

Jesus jaio dala

lasterka etorri da

berri ona ematera.

Horra! Horra!

Gure Olentzero!

Pipa hortzetan duela

eserita dago

kapoiak ere baditu


bihar meriendatzeko

botila ardoakin.

Olentzero buruhandia

entendimentuz jantzia

bart arratsian edan omen du

bost arruako sagia

ai, urde tripahaundia

la, lara, lara

ai, urde tripahaundia

la, lara, lara, laralara.


Olentzero just left us to go

Up to the mountain to work

With the intention

To make coal.

But when he heard

Little Jesus was born

He came  running

To spread the good news!

Look! Look!

Our  Olentzero!

He’s seated with

A pipe between his teeth.

He has also his own hens

With their small eggs

For his tomorrow’s snack

With a bottle of wine.

Stubborn Olentzero

So wise

Has been drinking

Lot of wine yesterday

Oh such  a big belly

la, lala lala

Oh such  a big belly

la, lala lala




You can listen to the song here.


Now you know a little bit more about Olentzero and even if you don’t live in Basque Country, I’m pretty sure if there’s a plate of Basque traditional food close to your fireplace, Olentzero will not be able to resist a visit to your home