Christmas in Bulgaria

December 20, 2005 by  
Filed under Events

Although the Communist Regime outlawed the Christmas holiday for 45 years in Bulgaria, Christmas has always found a place in the hearts of the Bulgarian people. For centuries since the Bulgarian national conversion to Christianity in 864 AD Christmas has been a central Bulgarian holiday. As Orthodox Christianity is still the main religion in Bulgaria for many, Christmas has a Christian Orthodox accent including the Orthodox traditions and customs. Yet, the Bulgarian Protestant community has supported for the preservation of this Christian holiday especially during the time of the Communist persecution. According to the Orthodox customs the Christmas holiday begins 40 days before the Christmas Eve. This time is called “Great Fasting” and is a time when no meat is eaten. Christmas Eve is the end of the Great Fasting. On Christmas Eve the family has dinner together. The hostess prepares nine meals without meat. Some of them are: beans, vine or cabbage sarmi (vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice), stuffed peppers, pickles, walnuts, apples, honey, ushaf (a traditional Bulgarian meal prepared by boiling dried fruits), and round bread. After the fast is over meat is served. Usually most of the Bulgarians eat pork chops, kebab and sausages. The kebab is prepared by cutting in small pieces the pork stewed with onions and pepper. The sausages are made of homemade minced pork. Central for the Bulgarian Christmas dinner is the bantiza, which is a baked strudel like pastry filled with an egg and cheese mixture. A coin is put in it for luck. The oldest man in the family breaks the banitza and gives a piece everyone. The one who gets the piece with the coin in it is believed to be very wealthy in the New Year. The Christmas Eve table is not cleared until the following morning, a typical tradition to insure that there will be plenty of food in the coming year."Surovaknitza” is another typical Bulgarian Christmas tradition. The surovaknitza is made of a cornel stick/cudgel. It is pruned so that several branches remain on the two sides of it all along its length. Then the branches that are one against another (at the same level of the stick) are tied so that they form something like a round circle one half of which is at the left side and the other half is at the right side of the stick. Three or four such circles are formed on the length of the stick as the upper circles will be smaller and the lower circles will be wider. The circles and the stick are wrapped with woolen and cotton yarn (usually white and red). It is decorated with little balls made out of cotton, strings of popcorn, raisins, prunes, dried apple slices, dried peppers, etc. The ready surovaknitza is used by the children to pat on the backs of their parents, grandparents, extended family, friends and any visitors in the house after the Christmas Eve. While patting, the kids say a wish for health, wealth, happiness and all the best to one patted. The patted person pays a dollar or five dollars to the child in order to receive a blessing in the New Year. Around Christmas many Bulgarians celebrate their name days. It is almost like a birthday, except instead of a date the parson’s name is celebrated. This is usually done on the day of a particular saint after whom the person is named. For example:December 4 – St. Barbara’s DayDecember 6 – St. Nicholas’ Day (Nikoulden)December 20 – St. Ignatius’ Day (Ignazhden)January 1 – Vassil’s Day January 6 – Epiphany – St. Jordan’s Day January 7 – St. John’s Day (Ivanovden) Another Christmas ritual is called Koleduvane. All the participants in it are men – bachelors, fiances and young men who have just married. This ritual group has its own name that differs from place to place and is connected with the region of the country – koledari, kolednitzi, koledare, etc. All the men choose their leader at St. Ignatius’ Day – he is called stanenik, usually an older man. The group has 10-15 persons. Each group includes younger boys (they are called cats), who walk around the houses and tell the hosts that the koledari are coming. The koledari wear old Bulgarian traditional clothing. They go round the houses in the village or in the town from midnight till dawn. On their way, in front of the gate and in the house they sing specific ritual songs. The songs differ from one another according to the place they are sung and the person they are dedicated to. As a whole, these songs are ritual wishes for happiness in the family and rich crop in the farm. The first song usually begins with this verse:“Get up, get up dear host!We are singing for you!We have come to visit you,We are good guests for you, koledari!”The leader of the group carries in his hands the ring – shaped bun, which is a gift from the host. After the songs have been sung he tells a Christmas blessing:“Let God grant you health;We have brought in your house revelry! “Besides the ring–shaped bun the hosts present the koledari with money, meat, flour, wine, beans and bacon. This ritual ends up with a common feast. Every family has a Christmas tree in their home; some are decorated with electric lights, some with candles. The tree is usually decorated with ornaments purchased in the store, cotton balls to imitate snow and a star on the top. Gifts are placed under the tree.