Olentzero Dator - Olentzero is Coming

You might call Olentzero the Basque Santa Claus – but you’d lose a lot in translation. Sure, he’s a fat old man who comes down out of the mountains around Christmas time to give children presents, but that’s about where the similarities end. Cultures around the world often adapt their pagan traditions to Christianity, but Olentzero’s cover story seems to hold a bit less water than average.

The most common story about Olentzero’s origin is that he is the last of the Jentillak, (a mythological race of Pyrenean giants – name cognate to gentile), left behind when the others returned within the earth or threw themselves off a mountain when they heard of the coming of Christ. And he gets weirder – here’s my favourite stanza from a Christmas song I learned in Basque class:

He looks nice enough...

Olentzero gurea

ezin dugu ase
osorik jan dizkigu
hamar txerri gazte.
Saiheski ta solomo
horrenbeste heste
Jesus jaio delako
erruki zaitezte.

Our Olentzero
we can’t sate him
he has eaten whole
ten piglets.
Ribs and pork loin
so many intestines
because Jesus is born
have mercy.

Let me repeat that last part: “He has eaten whole ten piglets. Ribs and pork loin, so many instestines, because Jesus is born – have mercy.” Whatever happened to cookies and milk?

The worst part is, this is the new and improved Olentzero, the modern version sanitized for today’s children. In many older versions of the legend, if the children were bad, (for example, if they didn’t want to go to bed right away), a sickle would be thrown down the chimney to indicate that Olentzero was coming to cut their throats.

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 22:14  Leave a Comment  

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