De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Effect of the blessing

Saying a prayer before meals at home was common practice throughout the Basque Country until a few decades ago. It was also common to make the sign of the cross before breakfast, an afternoon snack or a light repast.

Even though those practices still continue in some families, the ritual of blessing the table is, in general, limited to meals and feasts to mark a family event, Christmas Eve dinner, anniversaries, etc.

Family prayers

There were people who still recalled that the peals of the church bells marked the divisions of the day in rural communities. The ringing of those bells at midday announced the "Angelus", which also indicated the end of the morning work. Many homes waited for those peals to begin the meal that started with saying the "Angelus" prayer.

The ritual of blessing the table

The blessing of the table takes place once the dinners are seated. In the past, men removed their headwear and women tried to keep the young children still, quiet and with their hands together during the prayer.

Traditionally, the blessing was said by an older member of the family.

Blessing prayers

Saying a "Pater noster" was the most common way to bless the table. This supplication is made up of three prayers: an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be. The person leading the prayer would say alone the first part of each prayer and the other people at the table answered by reciting the second part.

Furthermore, in many cases, homes would have their own way of saying the blessing.

Blessing formulas in Basque

Many of the formulas collected in Basque ask for the food that they are going to eat and, in some cases, also the people at the table to be blessed.

Jauna, benedika gaizazu gu eta hartzera goazin janari eta edaria. (Sara-Ip)

Other blessing formulas recognise the food as a gift thanks to the generosity of God:

Jauna, onetsi gagizuz eta onetsi zure esku zabaletik hartuko doguzan janari eta edariok. (Durango-B).

Blessing formulas in Spanish

Those formulas that simply ask for the food to be blessed are very common.

Bless, our Lord, this food that we are going to eat. (Portugalete-B; Artziniega, Gamboa­ A; Mélida, Monreal-N).

Other blessings refer to the food as "gifts received from God".

Bless, our Lord, this food that, through your love and glory, we are going to eat. (San Román de San Millán-A).

Remembering dead relatives

The prayer for the dead members of the household was an integral part of those prayers said at the family meal. That practice was standard and common until a few decades ago in all the regions, particularly in the Southern Basque Country (lying within Spain).

After the blessing of the table, one or several "Pater Noster" were said preceded by invocations such as: "For the deceased of the family"; Etxe honetatik urten dabenen alde.

Prayers after meals

Less frequent was the practice of saying a prayer at the end of the family meal.

An exception in this regards was the funeral or wake meal, entierro bazkari, enterramentuko bazkari, hilarioko bazkari, which had a marked ritual significance and always ended with a prayer for the deceased. All the people at the table would stand to say this prayer.

The surveys have collected some prayer formulas said after meals. They all give thanks and come from Alava and Navarra.

Polite forms of address

At the end of the blessing and before beginning to eat, the person at the head of the table or the one who has said the prayer wishes the other people bon appétit.

The expressions commonly used are On egin!, Bon appétit!; On egin dizuela!, Enjoy your meal!

Tongue-in-cheek blessings

At lunches, afternoon snacks or dinners when young people gathered together, they used tongue-in-cheek blessings that parody the household blessings. Those were known as "the gypsy's blessing".

In Moreda (A), the young people would say:

This is the gypsy's blessing:
Let no more come
as there are enough of us as it is.