The Adoration of the Shepherds in Labastida is a beautiful tradition of Álava, introduced during the Middle Ages. The pastoral procession, which is an essential part of the festivity, is made up of two groups, one of shepherds and one of shepherdesses, the former formed by the eleven young men with the so-called “Cachimorro” at the front, and the latter by six girls, all dressed in typical costumes, as well as a small flock to give character and atmosphere to the groups.
The festivity begins when this procession walks through the streets of the village dancing and singing carols, to arrive at the Town Hall in order to invite the Municipal Corporation to take part in the adoration. Having exchanged greetings, the delegation of officials, shepherds and public goes to the Parish Church where Midnight Mass is held, and during which the dances and carols continue. During the offertory, the “Cachimorro” presents an offering of a live lamb, whilst chanting poignant, relevant verses.
At the end of the Mass, the procession returns to the village square where the traditional live Nativity scene is to be found. Here, a large bonfire is lit and the so-called “soups of the Child” are prepared, which are offered to the young woman who represents the kindly figure of the Virgin Mary, who then traditionally shares it with the Officials and the spectators.
In 1996, the Adoration of the Shepherds of Labastida was declared of “National Tourist Interest”.
On 21st and 22nd January in the village of Oyón-Oion, the feasts of San Vicente and San Anastasio centre around another curious character: the “Katxi” This curious character, dressed in a red and green outfit, has been the star of the festivities for the local patron saint since 1676. On his walk through the village accompanied by officials, the ‘Katxi’ repeatedly lies down on the ground while the flag of the village flies over him.
Carnival and Easter
To see one of the oldest and most unique carnival processions in Álava we have to visit Zalduondo. This also features a central character: “Markitos”, a life-size doll who embodies everything that is bad. It is paraded through the streets of the village on the back of a donkey and, after being tried, it is burned at the stake. He is accompanied by other typical characters such as the road sweeper, the dustman, vagabonds, sheep and a bear.
Parades with floats travel through the streets of during Carnival weekend. One week before Ash Wednesday, on “Larder” Thursday, groups of dressed-up schoolchildren sing for the capital of Álava, finishing with a final concert in the Plaza de los Fueros.
In addition, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, several processions recall the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in different parts of the region. Two examples of such are the processions conducted in Vitoria-Gasteiz and Laguardia.
At Lagrán after staging the descent from the cross, the procession leaves with “Cyreneans” chained to the feet that drag their penance in silence, broken only by the noise of the chains. On Easter Sunday it is possible to see the popular “Quema de Judas” (Burning of Judas), a tradition which is also celebrated in Baños de Ebro and Salinas de Añana.
In this last village in Salt Valley, after parading Judas through the streets mounted on an ass, he is hanged from an “Elder” in a corner of the square. At twelve o’clock the procession begins, which then splits into two to subsequently parade with embroidered standards. Finally, the encounter between the risen Christ and his mother the Virgin Mary, then the young people set fire to Judas to the sound of music.
Between 23rd and 29th June, the streets of Laguardia are filled with revelry and joy, as the town celebrates the festivities of its patron saints, San Juan and San Pedro. Laguardia is teeming with people. At one o’clock in the afternoon on 23rd June, the bells ring and the Chupinazo (mass lighting of cigars) announces the beginning of the festivities. The flag is raised on the Town Hall balcony, amid the sound of dulzainas and the noise of rockets, officially beginning the holiday, which will end with thunderous concluding fireworks and burial of the barrel.
Nonetheless, in Laguardia the festivities are not merely about fun and commotion, traditions also play an important role. In the early afternoon of this same day, 23rd of June, Dancers led by the “Cachimorro” form a strange procession in search of the Mayor and the Alderman, who are then taken to the square where they lower the flag of Laguardia.
This lowering is done directly from the balcony to the street, where a council employee picks up the flag and hands it over to the Alderman. After which flowers are presented. The guests and the Town Council then head towards the church of San Juan. preceded by the Dancers, the “Cachimorro” and the dulzaina band.
Now at the church, the town flag is surrendered to Our Lady of the Pillar and the Patron Saint, by means of the traditional flag waving ceremony. All of this merriment ends on 29th June with the ‘burial of the barrel’, and to the roar of a final volley of fireworks, festivities end until the coming year.
The Dolmen of the Chabola de La Sorguera (Witch’s Hut) is one of the most important dolmens in Euskadi, probably the largest and best preserved dolmen in the whole area. On the eve of the festivities, at the time of the Assumption, an akelarre (Witches’ Sabbath) is celebrated near the dolmen; involving a male goat, witches …
These are the witches who perform the akelarre – Basque for “meadow of the billy goat” – at the dolmen of the Witch’s Hut in Elvillar. The sky is filled with stars, the music of the txalaparta – traditional percussion instrument – beats incessantly and huddled groups that surround the campfire whisper what is about to happen: the descent of the Witch from the church tower to the Town Hall. This represents the starting signal for the festivities of Elvillar.
The festivities of San Roque are famous for being very long, seeing as how they begin on 15th August and continue until the end of the month. The day of San Roque, 16th August, is the most important day in the festivities, which is why so many activities are organised for that day. On the last Saturday in August, the day of the blood sausages is celebrated. Many people come to taste this product and the celebration goes on throughout the night.
Added to which, since 1977 a well known and popular rabbit stew and potato omelette cooking competition has also been held.
The Feast of the Patron Saint and the Procession of the “Virgen de la Plaza” are the most important festivities to be held in Elciego. 8th September is the date of the town’s local festival. The celebrations are announced in church on the previous Sunday, by means of an opening speech delivered by a leading personality. From 1988 up until 2000 this act was organized by a local group known as “Los Ilustres”, after which the Town Council took over the management of the event.
On the 7th, a floral tribute is offered to Our Lady of the Plaza, after which a rocket is launched to signal the commencement of the festivities. The Main Square is beautifully decked out and “Barrihuelo” joins in the revelry in plain sight of the traditional blusas, arms held high, cigar in mouth, moving along to the Town Hall and then descending to greet the crowd. At this point the music band, the bagpipers and the Cabezudos (big heads) leave the Square to start the traditional street parade.
The 8th September is the most important day, dedicated to the Virgen de la Plaza. The procession, the church mass and the various offerings all take place within a superb musical atmosphere with Pipers, Dances and the band, along with different officials who all make this a very special day for each and every one of the local residents. This ceremonial ritual has been documented as dating back to 6th September 1885.
Bull Runs, street parties, competitions, performances and the Burning Bull, among other things, keep both young and old entertained until the 11th, when “Barrihuelo”, who is just as tired as everyone else, announces “Until next year” in an event loved by all, recalling all of the high points and anecdotes that have occurred during the festivities, known as “Barrihuelo’s Burial”.