Dancers in Ochagavia
The minutiae of history, which is normally glossed over by textbooks, consist of all that which a people preserves and passes down from one generation to the next, being fuelled by traditions and customs. The people of Navarre proudly safeguard their history, protecting a series of traditions that are as rich and as varied as the landscape itself. Accordingly, it may be indicative to point out that in the regional laws of Navarre custom prevails over the written law.
In addition to traditional Christmas nativity scenes, feasts and carols, Navarre has other traditional rituals. The Olentzero, a fat-bellied, hard-drinking charcoal maker, comes down from the mountain to announce the arrival of Christmas Eve and bring the children their presents; this tradition, which originates from Lesaka, has spread to other rural and urban areas.
On New Year’s Eve, young people, especially in Urdiáin, celebrate the water ritual: they collect fresh water from the fountain in jars and offer it to the authorities and local people in exchange for their Christmas treat.
January 5th is celebrated throughout Navarre with the colourful Cabalgata de Reyes – the procession of the Three Kings. On the morning of the 6th, the streets of Sangüesa are the setting for the religious play "El Misterio de Reyes" (The Mystery of Epiphany), whilst the cloister of Pamplona Cathedral displays the relics of saints and noble countrymen for their veneration.
The excitement felt by children on the eve of the visit by the Three Kings, when they discover that their serving of cake, the rosco, contains the “haba” (bean) or a small gift hidden in the dough stems from the traditional children’s celebration in which one of the children was crowned king or queen following the ancient ritual. This tradition is kept alive, and in January each year a palace, church or castle hosts the crowing of the Rey de la Faba (The King of the Bean), in which a local child, the lucky recipient of the “haba” in the rosco, is proclaimed King of Navarre with the same ceremony as in the Middle Ages.
The carnivals have a particular character, above all in the north of Navarre. People don fancy dress in Ituren and Zubieta to accompany the ioaldunak or zanpantzar who parade from one village to another. The carnival of Lantz is the most widely known: here the bandit Miel Otxin is executed and burnt in the form of a huge straw “guy”.
Scene of a pilgrim, a romero, carrying a cross in the romería of Ujué.
Two weekends in the windy month of March see thousands of pilgrims make their way from all over Navarre to the castle of Javier. It is the mass concentration of the “Javierada”, a silent popular display that blends tradition with religious fervour, at the birthplace of the patron saint of Navarre, Francisco de Javier.
On Good Friday, at dusk, the streets of towns and cities are filled with processions, such as those in Pamplona, Corella and Estella, where one can even “see” the air, as it is written on a banner.
On the morning of Easter Saturday, in Tudela, the Volatín endlessly swirls around in Los Fueros Square until its apparel fall in rags amongst the crowd of children and adults who eagerly await the balloons and sweets that fall from the Casa del Reloj, the Clock Tower.
In the evening, the cloister of Pamplona Cathedral is the setting for the procession of the Encounter between the Christ Risen and his Mother.
The following day, Easter Sunday is celebrated in Tudela with the Bajada del Ángel – the Descent of the Angel, a ceremony in which a child descends through the air to remove the mourning veil that covers the Virgin Mary’s face; very close-by, in Cabanillas, following the procession of the Encounter between the Blessed Lord and Our Lady of Sorrows, Judas is pursued in order to be put to the sword; at the other end of Navarre, in Luzaide-Valcarlos, the bolantes dance to the florid Easter and take a collection around the various neighbourhoods and outlying farmhouses.
Spring arrives and, before the flurry of romerías (religious processions) to chapels and shrines, the Ángel of Aralar visits the countryside, towns, villages and the city of Pamplona, frequently accompanied by life-bringing rain. Ujué, Osquia, Roncesvalles, Sorlada, Codés, Cataláin, el Yugo in Arguedas, Lumbier, Labiano and Alsasua are landmarks on the dense map of romerías that are held throughout the length and breadth of Navarre. In village squares, the “Mayos” – barkless trunks of great height that still have their crown – herald the splendour of springtime.
Scene from the bull-run in San Fermin.
The summer festivals begin with the bonfires of San Juan. On this, the shortest and lightest night, bonfires burn all those useless items that get in the way of the enjoyment of the best part of the year, the time when the towns and villages of Navarre come alive with the festivals in honour of their patron saints, the most famous of which are the universally acclaimed “Sanfermines”.
With the arrival of autumn, hunters go out after wild boar and pigeons, which are caught with decoys and nets in Etxalar.
Pamplona celebrates Saturnino, its patron saint, on November 29th, and the regional holiday, Navarre Day, is held on December 3rd, the festivity of San Francisco Javier, the best known of all Navarrese saints.