Monster Monday: Olentzero

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about Olentzero.

An Effigy of Olentzero in Hendaye, France
An Effigy of Olentzero in Hendaye, France

Olentzero is a giant in Basque folklore. According to legend, he is one of a race of giants who used to live high in the Pyrenees Mountains. When they foresaw the birth of Jesus, they either retreated into the mountains our threw themselves off the top, unwilling to see the coming of Christianity. Only Olentzero remained.

Traditionally, he was depicted as having red eyes and carrying a sickle he used to cut the throats of naughty children at Christmas time. In some towns an adult dresses up as Olentzero and chases the children through the streets with a sickle when the sun goes down on Christmas Eve. In other towns a sickle is thrown down the chimney at midnight on Christmas to warn the children to go to sleep.

Modern versions of Olentzero are more benevolent. He is depicted as a fat peasant who likes to eat and drink. Children go from house to house on Christmas Eve singing songs, carrying an effigy of Olentzero and asking for treats.

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