As spring approaches, it's time for carnival. In the Basque Country, each province has its own way of celebrating it. Discover or rediscover the myths linked to this tradition.

After having honored the arrival of Olentzero and the announcement of the winter solstice at the end of December, it is now the upcoming arrival of spring and warmer weather which is celebrated at the end of January with the celebration carnival.

In the Basque Country, three characters are essential to this cult: Hartza (the bear), the Joaldunaks and Zan Pantzar (character representing evil). Depending on the province, this last character differs but it keeps the same symbolism. In the four corners of the Basque Country, the carnival called “Ihauteri” in Basque, is represented through songs, dances, music and even theater.


Hartza (the bear), is part of the celebration because it represents hibernation. During the carnival, the young people of the village will make noise in order to wake it up and, thus, mark the end of winter.
To wake him up, the inhabitants are helped by the Joaldunak, people dressed in sheepskin, wearing a pointed hat and bells on their chest. Equipped with a stick which serves as a whip, they chase away evil spirits and bad spells.
Zan Pantzar is also a character found during carnival. Other names are associated with it, such as Otxin Honey ou Ziripot, depending on the province but it always keeps the same symbolism: evil in person. He accumulates excesses and is said to be the cause of all the incidents and misfortunes that have occurred over the past year. He is often represented by clothes stained with wine and fat, wearing a collar of sausages and a Xahakoa (gourd full of wine) around the neck. Every year, the young people who organize the carnival put on trial Zan Pantzar following which he was convicted and then burned in the village square.

@Unai Beroiz

Trial and theater

In the Basque Country, there is no carnival without theater and pamphlets. After having wandered the streets and houses of the village meeting the inhabitants, the carnival-goers then devote themselves to the “trial”. Through several humorous theatrical scenes, the protagonists offer a social and political critique of the year's events. The time has now come to settle the score. The acts are interspersed with dancing and singing. Basque has an essential place in the carnival, the songs and the theatrical performance are performed exclusively in Basque.

Each province has its own carnival

Carnival is celebrated in two distinct times. First, the young people of the village organize the house tour called Etxez etxeak ou Kaskarrotak. This begins a few weeks before Carnival day. The objective is to meet residents to get to know them, exchange with them and thus create an intergenerational bond. The collective stops at all the houses and farms to dance a few dances and sing, in exchange, it is customary for the host to offer them food and drink.
Finally comes the day of the carnival, the last day of “letting go” and the time for the final pranks for the Zirtzil who are out. THE Zirtzil are mischievous and prankster characters linked to winter. This is their last opportunity to do stupid things. They are doing everything so that Zan Pantzar is not convicted and to continue clowning around. Unfortunately for them, it is spring, represented by the dancers dressed in white and colors, which will win the battle.

@Photo dr

Lower Navarre

Just like in the province of Labourd, Lower Navarre organizes its carnival in two episodes.
A week before carnival day, it's Santibate : the festival of Zirtzil and winter. The Zirtzil happily walk the streets of their village singing and dancing. Two Bertsulari, improvising poets, and musicians follow them and comment on the events live.
The following week, place Libertimendua : the celebration of day and light. The inhabitants then gather in the village square to attend the trial of Zan Pantzar.

@Maitane Hernandez

In the third and last province of Iparralde (Northern Basque Country), the carnival is called masquerade. Unlike the other two provinces, the masquerade are organized by one and the same village for the entire carnival period. The young people from the designated village will then be responsible for preparing the masquerade and will go from village to village to celebrate the arrival of good weather.
Just as in Labourd and Basse Navarre, the carnival is divided into two performances: Barrikada et Ofizioa. The first one Barrikada takes place in the morning and consists of a stroll through the village, going from bar to bar and from house to house. Here, the Zirtzil are replaced by the group of “ Noirs", while the dancers, representative of the day, are performed by the group of " red"
The second part, Ofizioa , consists of the trial of the black group. The outcome of the ceremony remains the same with a victory for the dancers “ red » which comes to beat the darkness of « Noirs"

@Patxi Beltzaiz

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