Today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Astearte Inautea, in other words, the day to get all our excesses in before the 40 days of Lent in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Most people have heard of the celebrations in Brasil or New Orleans, but what about the Basque Country?

Carnivals are celebrated in different ways across the Basque Country, as a previous post from last year explains.  However, some carnivals begin long before the lenten season, such as those celebrated in Ituren and Zubieta (Navarre). Their famous Joaldunak go about the streets, dressed in sheepskins and pointy hats while shaking their bells. They have become symbols of Basque carnivals. However, they are not as unique as you may think.

Joaldunak, by Kike CC-NC-ND

Earlier this year, I read the following description  of a carnival festivity in The Economist, of an event held in  Rijeka, Croatia:

Zvoncari, from The Economist

Romping in Rijeka: Croatia’s carnival

Spring, summer, autumn, winter, party. The Rijeka carnival, known to locals as “the fifth season”, starts on Tuesday and goes on until March 1st. It may not have the glamour of Rio or the glitz of Venice but the port city can still pull the crowds. Festivities start in earnest when the master of revellers is handed the city’s keys and a carnival queen is chosen. Over the coming weeks there are balls, masked karaoke events and boozing in breweries before the climax of the International Carnival Parade—attended by up to 150,000 people. Traditionally, the last group in the parade are the Zvoncari, the sheepskin-clad bell men of Kastav, who also tour local villages in an ancient tradition used to cement bonds between communities. The season ends with the burning of the pust, a puppet blamed for all the previous year’s ills; 2016’s has a lot to answer for.

Don’t the zvoncari remind you of the joaldunak? They also travel from Ituren to Zubieta in a tradition to ward off evil spirits and create unity.

Furthermore, the pust sounds an awful lot like Miel Otxin, the villainous character who is burned on Fat Tuesday in the Carnivals of Lantz (Navarre). During Lantz’s Carnivals a story plays out (based on true events) in which a bandit, Miel Otxin, in the mountains surrounding Lantz, is captured by the town and burned.

Miel Otxin, credit Panzermix Wikipedia Commons

Carnival festivities share many shared features across Europe and beyond. These pagan rituals’ history predates notions of lent and other Catholic traditions. It’s fun to look at the ways certain acts are repeated, demonstrating a shared sense of human community.

Have a great Astearte Inautea no matter how you celebrate it!