Christmas Traditions in the Basque Country

It is safe to say Christmas is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. Some diehard fans even have what is called Christmas in July, where for one day they put all the decorations and sing along to the feel – good Christmas melodies.

This year I am particularly excited, aside from having Christmas away from home, I get to experience it in a new way, according to the Basque traditions. So much has been going on since the month began.

The Elf tight-roping

There is even a whole calendar put up specifically for the different cultural activities that will be going on during the whole month, from the spectacular arrival of Santa Claus and his elves for a first display into Bayonne, this was a whole circus of entertainment – Santa was tight roping and his elves were rappelling down a building to an awaiting crowd, to the colourful Christmas markets that even the rains could not stop people from going to.

I obviously did not attend all the activities on the calendar hence I will update on my highlights and attach a link below with the calendar for future reference plus you never know if you would want to attend one of them sometime in your life 🙂

The first weekend was Santa’s arrival as well as the opening of the Christmas markets. Let me just say, it would be wise to go with the exact amount you want to spend because the temptation there is real. Everything you would want to eat was available and the weather was perfect for the vin chaud (hot wine) that was sold. During the day there were several activities for children and the ferry wheels opened at night.


From my interactions with my students in class I learnt about Olentzero whom at first I thought was the Basque Santa. He is a mythical cultural personality. He made his debut from the mountain on the 12th with a huge parade which I happened to bump into after mass.

He was slightly covered in charcoal which according to my students he would distribute so that people heat and warm their houses. He also gives out sweet charcoal to be eaten. He is believed to be the messenger of good news and the solstice of winter.

Lantern nights

Out of all the traditions this one won my heart. As part of the Christmas traditions the lanterns are lit which turns out into a beautiful magical animation at the heart of Bayonne Heritage. Each weekend had a theme color out of which one was cancelled due to bad winds.

Saturday 4th December (cancelled- bad weather): Multicolored lanterns

                                                                                Theme – Film music

Saturday 11th December (moved to 12th – floods): Green and red lanterns

                                                                                 Theme – Traditional music

Saturday 18th December: White lanterns

                                       Theme – Christmas music

 There was so much emotion in the air as everyone marveled at the colorful sky of flying lanterns.

Parade week (21st – 23rd)

I was particularly excited about the luminous horses’ parade which lasted for close to 2 hours. the animation was spectacular.  The horses were white and ivory in color to symbolize peace.

There was Herbert’s dream show. Mastodon silhouettes led the crowd around a luminous star; the characters do a magical ritual allowing the star to rise in the sky.

The last parade was the plush parade of giant cuddly toys that gave hugs!

Other activities throughout the month leading to January included concerts, plays, expositions, conferences, rugby matches, marathons just to mention but a few.

(To get precise dates and time for the whole month’s calendar, just google Noël 2021 à Bayonne. You are welcomed 🙂

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