Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's Eve from Bilbao! / ¡Felice noche vieja desde Bilbao! / Urte berri on nork Bilbo!


Greetings from Bilbao! What an incredible looking city: mountains, valleys and riverbanks embedded with exciting architecture -- old and new; traditional and vanguard. I'll write more about that next year.
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I had barely arrived here when I learned about another Spanish holiday tradition: the Basque Country's Olentzero! Olentzero is a giant who brings presents to children on the night of Dec. 24. Apparently the legend varies, but according to the one I heard, Olentzero, who was abandoned in the forest as a newborn child, was found and raised by a fairy. When he grew up, he became a charcoal burner. In his free time he liked to carve wooden toys and dolls. Periodically he filled his charcoal bag with his carvings and gave them out to children in a nearby village.
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On one of his visits to the village he found a house burning and heard children inside calling for help. He ran into the house, found the children upstairs and helped them escape through the windows. However, before he could leave the burning house collapsed around him. The children and other villagers saw a flash of light pull Olentzero out of the flames and into the the sky. It was the fairy who had raised him. She not only rescued him, but gave him everlasting life as the Basque Country's Christmas toymaker.
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I've been told that the Basques observe traditions based on Father Christmas. Olentzero and the Three Kings, although different families may emphasize one. So, here's to the Olentzero, the Caga Tío, the Caganer, the Tifa, the Three kings, Father Christmas, and the 12 Grapes at Midnight that help to make this time of year so colorful!
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Cheers amig@s,
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Carloz
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P.S. The photo is of Bilbao City Hall.

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