Olentzero: the “Basque cousin” of Santa Claus

There are many Christmas traditions around the world, French children receive gifts from Papa Noël, the English of Santa Claus, the Brazilians of Bom Velhinho and the Russians by Ded Moroz.

 In San Sebastián and in the Basque Country, children – like many others around the world – have a hard time sleeping on December 24 because they are waiting for the visit of someone very, very special and important: Olentzero.

Olentzero is a charcoal burner who, together with his wife, Mari Domingi, lives in isolation during the year in the bush. On December 24 at night they come down from the mountain to the cities and towns to leave gifts, but only to the children who have behaved well all year.

Like Santa Claus, his mission is secret and no one has to see him. Every kid knows that if they stay up trying to figure out Olentzero, they won't get anything.
In spite of everything, a few lucky ones have been able to see Olentzero and they tell us that he is an older man, with a lot of beard, a face stained with coal and a very large belly. It is no longer a secret that Olentzero is very fond of eating and drinking. Therefore, you can leave him some food, he will thank you and gain strength to continue with his work.

Olentzero, like his "cousins" from the North: Father Christmas or Santa Claus, enters the house through the chimney. Don't be scared if you leave the fire on all night. Olentzero has magical powers and does not burn.

There are many hypotheses about the origin of the character, it seems that the name comes from the words Ona (good in Basque)  antz (did) and Aro (period of time) and could represent the winter solstice.

Olentzero is so famous that it even has its own song in Basque. Here you have it with the Spanish translation.

Olentzero joan zaiguwool beggarintentzioarekinikatz egitera.aditu duenianjesus jaio dalalasterka etorri daberri ona ematera.hora! hora!Gure Olentzero!Hortzetan stave pipedagokapoiak ere badituarraultzatxoekinbihar snacktzekoardoakin bottle.olentzero buruhandiajantziabart arratsian edan omen dubost aromako sagiaai, tripahaundia urdela, lara, laraai, tripahaundia urdela, lara, lara, laralara.Olentzero has gone to the mountain to work with the intention of making charcoal. When he heard that Jesus had been born, he ran down to give the good news. Look at him! Look at him! Our Olentzero! He's sitting with his pipe between his teeth, he also has capons and small eggs for a snack tomorrow with a bottle of wine. Big-headed Olentzero so wise yesterday afternoon he drank a lot of liters of wine. Oh, what a gut! lara, larala, laralala.” :

can you hear the song here.

Now you know a little more about Olentzero, and even if you don't live in the Basque Country, if you leave him a typical Basque food dish (for example, a txuleta and a glass of cider) it is very likely that Olentzero will pay you a visit.