Friday, February 02, 2007

Scarecrows and Jokes

Carnival season in Euskal Herria is upon us, here you have a note regarding some Basque traditions via EITb:

Fiestas & traditions

History of Carnival

Basque Carnivals: scarecrows and jokes


Nights between the winter and summer solstices were long in the Basque farmhouses. They needed to include several festivities to make winter a more bearable season. That is how Carnival was born.

The history of Carnival feasts goes back to the Roman Saturnalia and Lupercalia feasts and to the Christian-Pagan celebrations. Winter nights were very long and people had to include feasts in between to reduce the rigours of winter. They also coincide with nature’s awakening, so there were feasts related to the land too.

In our farmhouses, besides thanking –with the tithe- nature for its gifts, people tried to protect from birds when the land was being sown. Therefore, they created the ‘scarecrows’ (txorimaloak in Basque language) with old things so that the birds did not destroy the crops. Moreover, like those ‘bird scarers’ decorated with feathers of birds of prey and colourful handkerchiefs, the Carnival disguises were born.

Later, people used those same disguises to criticise the authorities and to make fun of their unfair actions. The parishioners put the clerical authority, the serfdom, and the attitude of their masters in question; the young people of marriageable age protested about the artificial shapes of each sex, so men disguised themselves as women and women as men. This was the feast.

Carnival disguised as spring

More than 400 hundred years have passed since the beginning of Carnival in Tolosa, one of the most prominent Carnivals in the Basque Country. However, it has had to ‘disguise’ itself some times. Throughout four decades, during Franco’s dictatorship, the town celebrated the Spring Feasts –in the middle of winter!-. That was how the people from Tolosa camouflaged this Carnival, and no authority dared to stop it.

For the pro-Franco morality, Carnival feasts were too carnal, given to freedom and licentiousness, so they were banned. Nevertheless, the people from Tolosa, faithful to Carnival, knew how to run this prohibition thanks to this ’spring disguise’.

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