De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Meals connected with festivities and times of the year

Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Epiphany

During the days that make up the Christmas festive cycle - Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year's Day and Epiphany -, memorable meals are served, even though there is no special meaning regarding their ingredients.

In many rural and shepherding areas, a ewe would be specially fattened for this occasion and then slaughtered to be used to prepare all the meals.

Eating part of the pig slaughtered at that time – loin, etc. – was also commonplace in many country areas. A calf would be slaughtered between two farmsteads in other areas.

Capons, turkeys, cockerels, hens, and to a lesser extent rabbits were killed at this time and featured on the Christmas menus. Nowadays and in general, lamb or kid bought from shops and not slaughtered at home is eaten at that time of year. Fruit compote or manzanete was and continues to be the typical dessert of all Christmas festivities.

Since the 1960s, the composition of these Christmas festive meals, in the same way as the Christmas Eve dinner, has varied a great deal and they do not follow traditional guidelines or by what is in the home’s larder.

Meals at carnival time

From the food point of view, the whole Carnival period has been characterised:

-By the custom of including certain special delicacies such as toasts, French toasts, ensarinada sweet buns, pancakes or doughnuts.

-By the food collections and the ensuing collective and festive meals that mainly young people and children organise outside their domestic circle.

-By eating, on specific days, meat and fat from the slaughtering the pig: trotters, snouts, ears, chorizo sausages and bacon.

Easter sunday. pazko eguna

On Easter Sunday, the family gathers for a meal where the typical dish has been lamb or kid. A suckling lamb is slaughtered for this festivity in many rural areas.

Lamb is usually roasted and served with salad, but according to some surveys, in the case of large families and with low incomes, the lamb or kid is stewed. In recent years, it has become common to wash it down with sparkling wine, which used to be known as champagne and more recently cava wine. This last term is still used to a small extent. In the same way as on the major festivities, Christmas and New Year, hot chocolate is usually served for breakfast on that day. The most common dessert at Easter is junket, mamia, gatzatua, particularly in many towns of Gipuzkoa.

Household celebratory meals and communal meals to mark the patron saints' festivities

Every year, the patron saints’ festivities take place in neighbourhoods, villages or charter towns on the day of the Saint after which the church or chapel is named. These are a real event from the point of view of food.

Each home prepares a meal to mark the celebrations that is far more excessive than an everyday one or even a Sunday lunch. This is usually the most ample household celebratory meal of the year when special delicacies are served.

Roasts and stews have usually been the mainstay of these meals. A kid raised at home or a lamb bought from the shepherds in spring and fattened for this occasion would be slaughtered for that day. That would also be case for other family celebrations such as weddings, etc. There was also the custom of slaughtering a calf between several neighbours.

Celebrations at chapels and shrines

The chapels were the centre of a community in much of the Basque Country, particularly in those regions with a scattered population. On the day of the Saint after which the chapel is named, services are held and festive acts organised that include celebrations, meals and pilgrimages nearby.

Customary institutions known as Brotherhoods still remain linked to certain chapels. Many of them were disbanded in the past. In some cases, the Brotherhoods have administered communal goods belonging to them or to the chapel in question, and they would be responsible for looking after those religious buildings. In other cases, they were set up for clearly pious purposes.

On the festivity of the Brotherhood every year, there would be a Mass in the chapel in memory of the deceased brothers and the chief steward would take stock. A celebratory meal would then be held and whose menu was established by tradition. There are still brotherhoods that continue to celebrate the festivity with a Mass and meal. In the past, only men would attend those celebratory meals.

Over time, the church authorities had to frequently intervene in the customs of those Brotherhoods due to the excesses that occurred during the celebrations. They were often abolished on many occasions.

Meals at the end of collective work

The work carried out communally or involving different homesteads ended, particularly in the countryside, with a celebration for all the people involved in the work.

This would happen, for example, once the crops had been reaped and threshed, the grass and fern collected, local roads repaired, lime produced, a building constructed or even a pig slaughtered at home.

These meals linked to completion of work are always highly ritual in nature.