Just in case anyone out there hasn’t seen this, we’re posting this charming video showcasing the music and dance of the 54th National Basque Festival that took place recently, June 30-July 2, in Elko. As you’ll see, a good time was evidently had by all!
This weekend people lucky enough to find themselves in the Basque lands will have the opportunity, should they wish, to dance gently away to the sweet sounds of the Usopop Festival, a wonderfully quirky mix of roots, folk, rock, and pop music in the beautiful setting of Sara (Lapurdi) and the Lizarrieta Pass between Lapurdi and Nafarroa. Check out the teaser here.
The Baiona Ham Festival
The Easter vacation is becoming an increasingly important time for the growing leisure sector in the Basque Country. This week, traditional religious celebrations coinciding with Easter itself will be held, in which towns like Durango (with its famous pasinue) and Balmaseda in Bizkaia as well as others all over the Basque Country take center stage. But there are also a number of other activities taking place to cater for the increasing number of tourists who visit at this time of year. One of the biggest events takes place in Bilbao. The Basque Fest is a specially designed festival combining Basque traditions and gastronomy that seeks to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of Basque culture in all its facets, from traditional Basque sports to music and dance as well as, of course, food and drink. Staying on a similar theme, Baiona also hosts a wonderful festival of its own this week: the Baiona Ham Festival, a must see event for all aficionados of this famous Basque delicacy. Such festivities are, though, just the tip of the iceberg. Towns and cities all over the Basque Country will be celebrating this important holiday season in many and varied ways.
Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.
In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.
With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)
|Modern Basque version
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!
Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
Here we are!
we’re always happy, always cheerful!
There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!
From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
The carnival is coming!
And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…
This Saturday, September 26, the town of Mendata in Bizkaia will honor the Basque sheepherders who went to the Americas (and especially the US and Argentina) with a special celebration forming part of the town’s Festival of Saint Michael (Mikel Deunaren Jaiak).
In the words of its town council website, Mendata will, for a day, become “an authentic part of the Far West, with the aim of recognizing their efforts, strengthening public recognition of their work, and celebrating a festival in their honor.”
The program will begin at 12:00 pm with “Caravan to the Far West,”a parade involving sheepherders’ wagons and local people from Mendata dressed as representative figures from the era of immigration to the Far West. This will be followed by the re-enactment of a traditional send-off for a young Basque sheepherder heading for the Americas, accompanied by the music of Gontzal Mendibil. Then, at 2:00 pm, an aspen tree (lertxun zuria in Basque) will be planted beside a small monument that reads “Mendatako herriak Ameriketan artzain ibilitakoari” (From the town of Mendata to those who went to the Americas as sheepherders). The next hour will be dedicated to country dancing before a family-style lunch at 3:00 pm. Following lunch, there will be rodeo at 5:30 pm, emceed by Basque TV personality Julian Iantzi (who was born in California), and the event will end with a concert by the group Kupela at 8:30 pm.
For more information, see the articles at Euskalkultura and El Correo (in Spanish).
Recently, the CBS paid its own homage to those Basques who went to the US in the form of a two-volume book, Basques in the United States, which contains names and entries for nearly 10,000 first generation Basque immigrants from the 1800s through today.
Check out, too the Diaspora and Migration Series, which includes works on different aspects of the Basque migrant experience. And if you haven’t already, see Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, the masterpiece by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, now in its fortieth year of publication.
June 23 is Donibane or San Joan bezpera, St. John’s Eve, a key date in the Basque calendar that celebrates the summer solstice eve, with the solstice itself a major occasion for the Donibane jaia or sanjoanak, St.John’s festivities in many towns all over the Basque Country. This is, in short, the sun festival, a celebration held all over Europe.
Bonfires light the evening sky all across the Basque Country tonight
The pagan origins of the festival, which from the Middle Ages onward was imbued with a religious dimension, are clearly associated with the summer solstice and hint at rites representing notions of reawakening or rebirth. St. John’s Eve is typically associated with fire, with bonfires lighting up the night sky all over the Basque Country this evening. And for those brave enough to do so, jumping over these bonfires has been traditionally viewed as not just a demonstration of daring-do but also an act associated with a kind of ritual cleansing. Check out this video of the 2012 San Joan Suak (St. John’s bonfires) in Hernani (Gipuzkoa) here.
But fire is not the only element celebrated on this day. People also cleanse themselves with the water from certain drinking fountains, streams, and ponds. And during the dawn of St.John’s Day itself, it is also considered lucky to tread the morning dew of the grass in some places. In Errenteria (Gipuzkoa), meanwhile, a soka dantza (rope dance) is performed. And in many farmsteads, there is a tradition of placing small ash tree branches, or laurel or hawthorn leaves over the front door of the house to ward off lightning strikes.
Soka dantza in front of an ash tree on St. John’s Eve, Errenteria, June 23, 2013. Photo by Beñat Irasuegi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
On the many festivities associated with this day, as well as many other aspects of traditional Basque culture, see the introductory text, Orhipean: The Country of Basque, by Xamar (Juan Carlos Etxegoien). For more information on Basque culture in general check out the Center’s own Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika.