The identity of the people of the Basque Country is such that it is instantly recognisable and rooted in tradition. Whether it’s in southern France or the northern Spanish territory, this fiercely patriotic people is among the most welcoming and proud in Europe.
Often regarded as one of the oldest languages in Europe, Basque’s local dialect – Euskara – is today spoken by approximately 30% of the region’s population. Over the centuries, restrictions placed on the speaking of the language by the ruling classes has failed to diminish its use, and the teaching and speaking is as commonplace throughout the region as either French or Spanish.
The Basque people have long been Roman Catholic in faith and hold a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, with the advent of Christianity thought to begin in the fourth/fifth centuries. The Basque Country was also the birthplace of two of the Catholic church’s leading theologians, St. Frances Xavier and St. Ignatius Loyola – founder of the Jesuit Order.
Tradition is not just the preserve of language and religion, and the tradition of storytelling and mythology are integral to the fabric of Basque culture. Best-known of all the historical myths is the story of the race of giants known as jentilak. According to Basque folklore, this pre-Christian civilisation lived alongside the Basque people and was responsible for the formation of megalithic monuments. Legend says that all but one giant – Olentzero – disappeared from the land following the birth of Christ, with Olentzero only appearing at Christmas in straw doll reproductions.
A number of holidays and celebrations are hosted throughout the year to celebrate the traditions and heritage of the Basque people. Folk musicians and dancers are often present during village festivals, while the most famous of all traditions – the running of the bulls – takes place each year in the Basque town of Pamplona in Spain.