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The Bulgarian Travel Center

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Traditions and Customs of Bulgaria


Many Bulgarian customs and traditions go back to pagan times whilst others have their roots in Christianity. Most deal with the life cycle and the four seasons. Bulgarians devote certain days of the year to honour their past and participate in certain rituals that are not only interesting but also pleasurable as well.

There is a belief that goes back to Thracian times that when a woman is pregnant she must keep it a secret during the early stages less she should lose the baby. For a safe delivery the story has it that she should not kill a snake, kick a cat or dog and not eat rabbit meat. Another old custom is that a bride goes through the ritual of having her hair combed over her shoulders for an hour before her wedding because when she enters matrimony it must be forever covered or combed up.

Since early Christian times their has been the tradition of Bulgarians celebrating their name days. Most Bulgarians are named after a saint. So when it is a certain saints day that corresponds with yours there is a big celebration and all your family enjoy a meal together, for some Bulgarians name days are more important than birthdays.

Perhaps the most important custom and the one that is very noticeable has to be 'Baba Marta' which occurs on the 1st march and concerns itself with the coming of the warm weather. White and red tassles are exchanged to wish each other good health and happiness and are usually worn on the wrist and are not to be taken off until you are able see a stork or a blossoming tree. The white represents the purity of snow and the red the setting of the sun and both signify the spirit of nature in relation to the male and female.

If you are on holiday in Bulgaria you may be able to see a custom which centers around Bourgas. A fire dance is performed and their is supposed to be a spiritual connection with a bare foot dancer and a particular saint which then enables the dancer to predict the future. To achieve this higher state the dancer has to dance on hot embers. It must be great to watch but definitely not a custom you would want to practice.
National Day Of Bulgaria
On this day, remembered in history as Bulgaria Liberation Day, the people of Bulgaria pause for a tribute. The first time of marking March 3 occurred in 1880, in honor of Enthronement of Russian Emperor Tzar Alexander the Second - Tzar Osvoboditel, meaning Tzar Liberator. Since 1888, March 3 has become Bulgaria's Day of Liberation and it was pronounced a National Holiday in 1978. Since 1990 the date March 3 is included in the list of Bulgaria's official holidays
Nikulden
Nikulden is "The Day of Saint Nicholas" - a great winter festival celebrated by all Bulgarians on December 6th. It is the name day for everyone named Nikola, Nikolay, Kolyo, Nikolina, Neno, Nenka, Nikolina or Nina.

Saint Nicholas is believed to help all the sailors and fishermen. He was born during the third century in Patara, a village situated is Turkey nowadays. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died during an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Not only is he the patron of sailors and voyagers, but he is also a friend and protector of children. He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish and water demons - as well as the sea winds. The autumn fishing season ends on this day. The day's catch is to be offered to the saint. Fishermen eat the first fish caught right on the shore, before bringing the rest home.

According to the folk-Christian myths, it is Saint Nicholas who makes the winds rage and cease. Saint Nicholas can walk on the seas and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it. He is the protector of sailors and fishermen, a patron for those who bear his name, a personal or family protector. Like the Greek sailors, Bulgarians also keep icons of St. Nicholas on shipboard seeking protection from storms. Sailors' wives put icons of St. Nicholas into the sea, praying that he will bring their husbands safely back on shore. A special family lineage festival is arranged on Nikulden.

The traditional Nikulden meal in each household is based upon a fish meal - “ribnik” - a carp in dough - is traditional for the holiday. Carp is regarded as Nicholas' servant. There are also two special loaves of bread. The food is blessed at church or at home before being served. After wafting incense over the food, the host raises the bread high, and breaks it in half. He keeps one half while the other one is left on the table. It is on Saint Nicholas' Day that the table is open to all guests and is not cleared before the day is over. Relatives, sponsors and neighbors are invited, the table is sanctified and the feast day ends in songs and fun.
Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a ruthless persecutor of the Christians. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died on December 6, AD 343 in Myra, and was buried in his cathedral church, where there is an unique relic, called manna, forming his grave. This liquid substance was said to have healing powers which fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.
In Netherlands, St. Nicholas' Day is celebrated with the sharing of candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.
Bulgarian Day Of Culture
For nearly a thousand years the Cyrillic alphabet has been one of the few officially recognized languages along with Hebrew, Greek and Latin for spreading Christianity among the peoples of Europe. Now, with Bulgaria's accession into the European Union on January 1 2007, Bulgarian has become an official language of the European Union (EU). Bulgarians are the only EU citizens who write in Cyrillic.

Bulgarians honor the 24th of May as the day of Day of Slavic Alphabet and Culture. The day may also be called "Sts. Cyril & Methodius Day", "Day of Culture and Literacy" or "Alphabet Day". All over the country schools are decorated with flowers and portraits of the brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius in gratitude for the treasure of letters so suitable for the pronunciation of the Bulgarian language.

The occasion is closely related to the lives and deeds of the two missionary brothers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who developed the first Bulgarian alphabet (Glagolic) to accurately reflect the sounds of the Bulgarian language. Millions of people read and write using this alphabet; not only in Bulgaria, but also in Russia, Serbia, Macedonia and even Mongolia. Introduced at about the year 866 A.D., the new letters were destined to assist in unifying the young Bulgarian nation and thus lay the grounds of Bulgarian literature, education and culture, as celebrated today.

Many documents show that between 972 and 999 there was a “Bulgarian bishopric” in Krakow that converted thousands of Pagan Slavs. Undoubtedly the greatest success of Bulgarians lies in the vast expanses of Russia. The “battle for Russia” lasted for almost three centuries – officially Russia adopted Christianity in 988, 123 years later than Bulgaria. Legend tells that the official adoption of Christianity came after the ordinance of the wife of the Russian prince, Olga, a princess from the Bulgarian court. The spread of Christianity and Slavic literature in Russia is of particular importance for preserving the Slavic writing and learning.

An interesting fact from this time is the “mutual help” of Bulgarians and Russians in saving the Slavic literary treasure in difficult moments. Between 12th and 14th c. Russia was overrun and dominated by the Tartars, most spiritual centers were destroyed in flames. At this very moment Bulgaria was at the top of its political might. Bulgaria not only stopped the Tartar march to Europe but also soon after the battle of Kulikov in 1387 it poured into Russia rich literary treasures out of the Bulgarian libraries
Bulgarian Easter
Easter is a Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter also marks the end of the Lent. A symbol of the Resurrection is the egg out of which a bird hatches.
Easter is the time of springtime festivals, a time to welcome back the tulips, the crocuses and the daffodils. It is also the holiest day in the Christian calendar (followed by Christmas) and is recognized as a legal holiday in most countries with a significant Christian tradition.

The Bulgarian Easter traditions are a variation of traditional Orthodox Easter traditions. Here in Bulgaria, egg cracking is good for more than just eating the egg. The bright red colored egg is the symbol of Easter for the Orthodox Christians all over the world. The traditional Orthodox Paschal greeting is: "Christ has risen!" The answer is: "Indeed He has risen". This is the greeting during 40 days after Pascha. Also, the greeting is exchanged during the ritual tapping of the eggs which is explained below. The first egg is always painted red to symbolize the blood of Christ and should be put aside - either to be buried in the fields to ensure fertility or kept in the home to bring good luck. On Easter Sunday married couples traditionally visit the best man at their wedding and have roast lamb for lunch.
The Christian tradition of the red egg custom is connected with a specific legend. Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cured from all the evil spirits within her, was the first one to see Jesus rise from the dead and she went around the world to spread the happy news. She reached Rome and Emperor Tiberius’s palace. According to the tradition, everyone visiting him was supposed to carry a gift to the Emperor. The rich people were carrying expensive gifts while the poor ones offered whatever they could afford. Mary Magdalene took an egg to Tiberius’s palace and handed it to the Emperor with the following greeting:”Christ has risen from the dead!” The Emperor could not believe what he heard and responded: “How could anyone ever rise from the dead?! It is as impossible as that white egg to turn red right now!” While Tiberius was talking, the egg in Mary Magdalene’s hands started changing its color until it finally became bright red. The Easter greeting ever since has remained “Christ has risen from the dead” and Christians all over the world color eggs in red (and various other colors) for Easter to celebrate their belief in the resurrection.

The bright red colored egg is the symbol of Easter for the Orthodox Christians all over the world. It is tradition that the eggs are colored on Holy Thursday after the Divine Liturgy. The eldest woman in the house has the privilege of dying the eggs.

The Easter breads are a worldwide Orthodox tradition as well. These are big or small and decorated. The bread is called "kolache" or "kozunak". One of these Easter breads may be specially decorated with one or more (but always an odd number) of the red-colored eggs. This bread is taken to church on Saturday evening. The church bells begin to ring just before midnight, calling Orthodox Christians to worship. At midnight, a special sequence of services takes place: Midnight Office, Rush Procession, Matins and Divine Liturgy. These are the services of Great and Holy Pascha (Velikden). Following the service, the clergy blesses the breads and eggs brought by the people and they return with them to their homes. The eggs are cracked after the midnight service and during the next days. One egg is cracked on the wall of the church, and this is the first egg eaten after the long Great Fast. The ritual of tapping the eggs takes place just before the Easter lunch begins. Each person will select his or her egg. Then the people in turn exchange the Easter greeting ("Christ has risen!" / "Indeed He has Risen") 3 times before tapping their egg against the eggs of others.

The person who ends up with the last unbroken egg is believed to have a year of good luck
Tsvetnica
Tsvetnitsa or Vrabnitsa (Palm Sunday) is one of the biggest Bulgarian holidays. А “holiday of flowers and trees”, rich in a variety of customs, songs and melodies. Palm Sunday is held annually on the last Sunday before Easter (in 2007 on Sunday, April 1) and it is the people’s belief that this is the day of the fields, meadows and forests. Being one of the most beautiful spring holidays it celebrates the day of the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, when he was welcomed with palms and olive branches. Bulgarian Orthodox tradition uses more readily-available willow branches instead of palm ones, and people wind them into small crowns they put on the heads of the children for health and blessing. The Lazarovden ceremonies, called Lazarouvane, are among the best-loved Bulgarian traditions. The Saturday before Easter is a festival devoted to young girls, pastures, fields and woods. In Bulgaria's village communities, Lazarovden was quite an event in the life of every young girl, for then she could demonstrate to the townspeople that she had already grown to be a "complete maiden". The girls would gather in groups of about ten at the house of the prettiest one and start from there with their songs to make a round of the village. The songs sung on St Lazar's Day praise the beauty of the maiden and her lover, the industry of the farmer, the purity of maternal love and express wishes for happiness and prosperity.

Early in the morning on Tsvetnitsa the young girls who have been ‘lazarki’ on the previous day go to the nearest river. After they find a place where the water is calm they put pieces of traditional bread on willow barks and throw them into the water. The girl whose bark outsails those of the others is pronounced for ‘kumitsa’. She invites everybody to her house where they all sit down to a table on which traditional bread, hominy and mashed nettle are served. Groups of young girls, wearing the traditional national costumes, carry hand baskets to collect eggs as gifts and sing the Lazar Day songs. On Lazarovden all those named Lazar, Lazarina and all those named after flowers, plants or trees celebrate their name day.

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