Basque carnival season kicks off around this time of year, with different places holding carnival celebrations at different times. There are many names for carnival in Basque: iñauteak, iñauteriak, ihauteriak, iyoteak, ioteak, aratozteak, aretusteak, and aratuzteak (the latter three terms deriving from (h)aragi uztea or “giving up meat,” i.e. the Lenten fast). Whatever the name, like everywhere else in the world, carnival is all about dressing up in weird and wonderful costumes, letting loose, poking fun at anyone and anything (especially in authority), and having as good a time as possible!

There are numerous places in the Basque Country where carnival is especially important: This year, for example, Ituren and Zubieta (both in Nafarroa) will celebrate their famous joaldunak (literally, “carriers of bells”) festivities on February 1 and 2 respectively. On Monday, the joaldunak (also known as zanpantzarrak in other parts of the Basque Country) of Zubieta visit the streets of Ituren and the following day, it is the turn of those of Ituren to visit Zubieta. These figures have become one of the most emblematic groups in Basque culture.

Staying in Nafarroa, Lantz is also renowned for its carnival. Here, on Shrove Tuesday, the young people of the village dress up as figures called txatxoak and burn an effigy known as Miel Otxin, while dancing the famous Basque zortziko around the fire.

For Julio Caro Baroja (in The Basques, p. 290):

The giant of Lantz is undoubtedly related to others that in different regions represent the Carnival, whose triumph and death were often used as a theme by poets, writers, moralists, and artists of the medieval Christian period or immediately after it. But it is also very possible that in these local masquerades, old pagan rites of community security are reflected for wider purposes, or at least different ones, than the strictly agricultural one that is usually ascribed to them.

In Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, meanwhile the iñauteriak make up the town’s principal annual festival. Here, carnival resembles more the kind of celebrations held in Rio or New Orleans, with a week-long festival held marked by parades and general revelry. What’s particularly striking, though, is the level of popular participation. Everyone–and I mean everyone–gets involved. Check out the following video taken at the 2014 diana (reveille), the exuberant wake-up festivity. Note how few “spectators” there are… This is no tourist spectacle. Everyone wants to take part rather than just stay on the sidelines!