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New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is a great holiday here. In Sofia, every year there is a free open-air concert in the square in front of the National Gallery. Usually it starts at 10 pm on Dec. 31 and ends in the early hours of Jan 1st. There are some pop and rock bands, folk music and dance, etc. A few minutes before midnight, they broadcast the President's speach to the nation, then the whole crowd counts down, at midnight they play the national anthem and everybody sings, then 'Mnogae Leta" and then everybody dances the horo. It gets quite crowded but there's a special festive spirit, and usually total strangers shake hands, hug, and dance the horo.
Meeting of 2007 was special, as Bulgaria entered the EU, there were two stages in stead of one, great fireworks, speaches, broadcasts, etc. For more details, check out the local customs on my Bulgaria page.
Nikulden (St Nikolas) 6 December
Nikulden is one of the most respected days in the traditional Bulgarian calendar. The legend says that St Nikola saved a boat from sinking by placing a fish (carp) in the hole on the bottom of the boat.
On the table on this day, there must be fish, preferrably carp. The fish, stuffed with bulgur, rice, raisins and walnuts, is wrapped in dough & baked. This is called 'ribnik' (fish pie). The table must also have ritual breads, and the other food is vegetarian - stuffed cabbage leaves, peppers, white bean, corn. The food is blessed, the host breaks the bread and lifts it high (so the wheat can grow high the next season), and then the dinner begins.
This festival has another function -- it marks the beginning of the deep winter and the bad snow storms. The folk saying goes: "Today is his day, tomorrow is his snow". If the day is cold and it snows, the year will be good; if it's warm and dry, the harvest will be weak.
The traditional belief is that St Nikola was one of the six brother-saints, who received the water when the Earth was divided among them. St Nikola rules over the seas, rivers, lakes and the under-water world - fish, mermaids, monsters & demons. He protects fishermen, sailors, merchants & freighters, and in modern context, bankers.
On this day, the Orthodox Church also commemorates St Nikola Mirikliiski, who was persecuted for his belief in Jesus.
Vasilovden (St Basil) 1 January
On Vasilovden the ritual of 'survakane' takes place. This is one of the few traditional rituals which have made their place in the modern lifestyles. It is performed by children and is very popular (this is when they receive their new year's presents).
The "survakane' is a ritual tapping on the back with a stick. The sticks must be made of cornel-tree (a bush, actually) and decorated with popcorn, dried fruits and coloured treads.
While the child taps with the stick, he or she says (some variation of):
"Let the year be blessed and joyous,
with green grain on the fields,
big grape on the vine,
yellow cob on the corn,
red apple in the orchard,
full house of silk;
be healthy and merry
til next year and forever!"
Everyone repeats 'til next year and forever" ("dogodina do amina").
Often even little children who cannot hold the survachka themselves or cannot talk, are helped by their parents or older siblings. Kids and parents, or more often grandparents, make the "survachka" themselves, even though you can buy one too.
Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of one myself, so I looked up the web, and found this one.
On this day celebrate Vasil, Vasila, Vasilka, Veselina, Veselka.
Stefanovden (St Steven) 27 December
This is the third and last day of the Xmas Festivities. It is the last fest in the traditional Christian calendar and is believed to complete the Old Year.
St Steven was the first Christian martyr and archbichop of Jerusalem. He was wrongly accused and stoned to death.
Notwithstanding religious beliefs, Stefanovden is celebrated as the name day of Stefan, Stefana, Stefka, Stamen, Stoimen, Stanimir, Stanimira, Stoil, Stoilka, Stoyo, Stojka, Stanka, Stanko, Stojan, Stojanka, Tanyo, Tanya, Zapryan, Tsanka, Tsonko, Ventsislav, Ventislava.
One of the traditional rituals in Northern, Central, Southeast and parts of Western Bulgaria is the "Laduvane" or "foretelling of marriage", performed by young girls. The night before, the girls leave their rings or flower bouquets in a freshly drawn well water. The morning on Stefanovden, a young girl dressed as a bride takes one by one the rings/bouquets and spells the time of marriage or the characteristics of the groom. "Ripe quince and overripe" (the girls will marry late), "Lonely stem on a stone" (the groom will be an orphan), "Yellow veil gathers splinters" (the girl will elope). The girl will marry whoever she's dreaming of that night.
Nova Godina & Dyado Mraz (New Year)
This is my favourite holiday!
On this day, we receive presents from Dyado Mraz (Grandpa Frost). Dyado Mraz lives on the North Pole and is very bizi making presents., which he brings together with Snezhanka (Snow White) on New Year's Eve.
Nowadays, Dyado Mraz is labeled a communist invention and some people have moved on to presents from Santa on Xmas. I always open my pressies at Midnight or on 1 Jan. It's just how things should be ;-)
Koleda (Chrstmas Day) 25 December
Koleda has the richest & most significant rituals of all the Bulgarian traditional holidays. While Ignazhden (20 Dec) sets off the Xmas celebrations, Koleda is the pinnacle and coincides with the Winter Solstice.
Koleda is a continuation of Budni vecher (Xmas Eve), because it starts at midnight with the ritual of Koleduvane. Only men over 15 can participate in this ritual - mostly bachelors, but also engaged or recently-married men. All carry one common name, which vary from region to region - Koledari, Koladnici, Kolednici, Koledare. Younger boys ('kotki'), run ahead of the group to announce the Koledari's visit.
Between Krustovden 14 Sep and Igazhden 20 Dec, groups of 10-15 are formed and a leader ('stanenik', 'starec') is chosen. The groups also have 'torbar' ('magare') who carries the gifts, and 'bogoslovnik' who decides how to bless each house. Generally, they wish happiness and prosperity, but also have a wishes customised to individual circumstances.
The Koledari wear special outfits and carry sticks decorated w/ popcorn and dried fruits, as well as the ritual breads given by the households. They visit all houses between midnight and dawn. The worst omen is if a house is not visited.
The first song begins:
"Get up, house master,
we are singing for you, our host.
Benevolent guests are coming,
good guests, Koledari."
The host gives in turn them a ritual bread, and the group blesses the house:
"From God, we send you health,
and from us, a good party".
The Koledari also receive money, meat, lard, beans, flour, wine. Part of the collected food is given to the poorest of the group or to the church, and the money to the local school. If someone doesn't want to share their gifts, the others will punish him by stealing his front gate or an animal from the household.
Baba Marta (1 March)
Baba (Grandma) Marta is one of the most observed traditions, and marks the end of winter & the beginning of spring.
IN the North, the winter seasons are personalised as a family of two brothers Golyam Sechko (Big Axe -- January) and Malak Sechko (Small Axe -- February) who wreak havoc in people's lives by stopping all normal activity. Their grandma Marta is known to have a rather volatile temper -- laughing one day (and then it's sunny & warm) and fuming & angry the next (cloudy & cold).
On 1 March everyone wears a 'martenica' (pl. martenici). The traditional martenica is a bracelet made of interlaced red and white cotton/wool strands. "Red & white" is the traditional desciption of a healthy person, red is for rosy cheeks, white is for unblemished skin. So by giving you a martenica, people wish you health and prosperity. (An interesting note is that in BG psyche health & prosperity are the two sides of the same thing; you can't have prosperity without health).
There are many popular shapes of martenici, incl. two cherries, a man and a woman (called Pizho and Penda respectively), and while kids wear plastic figurines that have red and white strands. You do not buy yourself one, you receive from & give to other people (family, friends and neighbours), and end up w/ a lot of bracelets & lapel buttons.
The tradition says we should wear them until we see a stork (as a migrating bird, this is the true sign the weather has turned). Undoubtedly, the child delivering fame of the stork plays a role in its selection (the allusion of children as the new spring in the life cycle). Once you see a stork, you tie your martenica to a fruit tree (again, the perpetuation of the idea of harvest & riches). More practically, we wear martenici until about 1 April.
PS. I have been living abroad for many years and can happiliy report that this is a unique custom. If you see a person w/ martenica, he/she is either Bulgarian or received it from a Bulgarian. Ask them! ;-)
24th of May
If you are by any chance in Sofia on 24th of May you should definetely be downtown all the day.
There are big fests, it's interesting and nice.
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