From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Attending school

In the past, according to our field work, children started school between six and seven years old. Compulsory schooling was short and usually lasted until the children were 12, but at most until they were 14. The subjects taught were also at primary level and were practically limited to the children learning to read, write, count and Christian doctrine. Girls were also taught to sew. In small villages, rudiments that were a mixture of Catechism and general knowledge were taught in the sacristy or on parish premises under the supervision of the priest or the teacher. This prepared the children for their first communion.

Starting school late

In Gamboa (A), the children who had chores to do on the farmstead started school late, when they were seven and they left when they were ten. The opposite occurred in Amézaga de Zuya (A), as the under 7s were sent to school to lighten the burden of the parents and make it easier for them to work.

Early school starting age

In some places, children started school at an earlier age; in some locations that was due to schools being set up by monks and nuns.


As has been previously noted, there was a great level of truancy, particularly in rural areas, where greater importance was given to household chores or the distance from the farmstead or bad weather.

First communion

First Communion is an important event in the life of a child, both for the child and for the family as a whole. The information gathered in our survey indicated that at the start of the 20th century, and in keeping with the tradition inherited from earlier eras, children took their First Communion between 12 and 14 years old, when it was considered that the communicant had the necessary discernment for that act.

Private communion and high mass communion

In our surveys, the tradition of the two communions – private and high mass – was mainly found in places of Gipuzkoa and of the northern Basque Country. However, we have found some evidence of this practice in Navarra and Bizkaia.

First Communion alone

Álava, Bizkaia and Navarra were the main places when the tradition of making one’s First Communion alone. And the oldest accounts in our surveys indicated that the First Communion was made at a young age. More recently, the age has been slightly later and now happens at around 9 years old.

Dates for holding the First Communion

The First Communions were and continue to be held in general on a Sunday or bank holiday in spring, usually in May and June during the Paschal period. In the past, they were also held on workdays.

Feast days, such as Ascension Day, Corpus Christi or a day of particular importance for the location, would be reserved for that event in the past.

Rite of passage to adolescence

In many places, particularly where the communion is made at a later age, the First Communion did not have only a religious connotation according to which the child became an adult Christian, but also profane, as it mainly marked the step from childhood to adolescence. In many cases, the high mass communion was made between 12 and 14 years in the past, which coincided with the end of schooling and the start of entering the working world, and was therefore considered a rite of passage.

First Communion reception

The First Communion is also a real social and family celebration. Originally, the meal on that day was hardly different at all from an ordinary one, even though the dessert might have been better. It was also usually to have a hot chocolate party or a small snack after the religious ceremony.

In the 1950s, it became more usual to hold a celebration at home around the family’s table at midday, with a small number of guests, including the godchildren of the child.

First Communion presents

Giving presents to the child on their First Communion became more widespread at the same time when people started to invite friends and relatives in addition to those living under the same roof.


Confirmation, rite of entry into youth

Down through the ages until the 1970s, confirmation was not a specific age and was therefore not considered a rite of passage. In fact, as it was a sacrament reserved to be administered by the bishop, which occurred when the latter visited the town or village, an event that was few and far between.

At the end of the 1960s, the changes introduced by the Vatican II Council sought to give Confirmation another status, with the ideal age to receive it established as 16-18 years old, and with an extensive, serious and prior catechism is required.

Chores done by children

When describing school attendance, it was noted that it often depended on whether the children were needed to work in the fields in the rural world. Children helping with the farm, livestock or household work usually happened before and particularly after they had finished the classes in school and during the holidays. However, it was seen in some locations that this help was also given during school hours, which led to truancy, particularly during good weather and when a lot of manpower was needed for the tasks. Some children, according to the surveys, liked to help with some chores and preferred that to going to school, which they did not enjoy and an attitude that was tolerated by the parents.

Common tasks for boys and girls

In many places, it was seen that the initial tasks to help out at home were interchangeably carried out by boys, by girls or by both together in the case of siblings. As they grew up, boys specialised in some tasks, usually harder, needing effort and more focused on the fields, while the girls helped out more at home and with the tasks usually performed by the mother.