Owner and tour guide @ San Sebastian Urban Adventures. Tour leader @ Intrepid Travel. Love the Basque Country, gastronomy, pintxos, and San Sebastian.
Throughout Europe and North America, December typically marks the arrival of Christmas markets — but in San Sebastián, the traditional winter market isn’t quite the same scene.
San Sebastián’s December market is only celebrated on one day, Saint Thomas’ Day on the 21st of December, and is different from what most of us imagine from a “Christmas market.” You’ll see no red and white decorations, and most of the food for sale is quite simple and typical of most Basque festivities (not just during the Christmas season). But what this day certainly is, is a great excuse to party, party, party!
The market’s origins date back to the 19th century (which explains why this market is so different from other Christmastime markets throughout Europe). Farmers of nearby villages would come to the city to pay their rent to landowners, and to buy products they couldn’t get back in their villages — but they also used this annual visit as a chance to sell their own goods. Urban and rural communities would meet on this day to exchange products for the upcoming Christmas festivities. Today, that traditional reason has mostly disappeared, but you can still expect to see vendors and shoppers wearing traditional Basque rural clothes, remembering the roots of the market.
Here are five things you must experience to get the local flavour of the St. Thomas market:
Watch the pig raffle
This is probably the most defining event of St. Thomas’ Day. A pig is raffled off to the crowd, and people gather around to visit her in the elegant Constitution Square. The pig usually has a woman’s name (Maikrux this year) and is huge — Maikrux weighed 360 kilos.
Taste talos and txistorra
While there are plenty of foods to be found in the market, the one snack you simply can’t skip is a talo. Talos are similar to a pancake and made with corn flour, and are usually eaten with bacon, chocolate, or cheese, although the most common one is with txistorra, a sausage very similar to Spanish chorizo. As a result, the Old Town streets are filled with the aroma of fried txistorra and freshly made talos. Best of all, most of the talos stalls are run by local groups and schools, which use the money for their programs — so eating a talo means helping local communities!
Try on traditional Basque clothes
It is during the Christmas period when people from San Sebastián are most likely to don traditional Basque clothing. Black and white outfits are most common, but new creations are becoming more popular, and many traditional clothes are being adapted to modern times, trends, and colours.
Shop at the local products market
Along the Old Town and city centre streets and main squares you will find plenty of local products for sale by local producers, from crafts to foods (like Basque cake, local cheeses, rural bread, and many, many, many more yummy and unique products).
Raise a cider
What’s winter without our favourite winter beverage?! The cider season actually begins in January, but locals are so eager to taste the seasonal cider that on St. Thomas Day, it is the most consumed alcohol. Remember, Basque cider belongs to the natural ciders of the North Atlantic coast of Spain: it is natural cider with no sugar or additives, and it tastes quite sour — but still completely delicious.
Headed to San Sebastian? Let a local show you around!