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The Bulgarian Festival Calendar

 

Saint Elijah's Day

July 20th.

      This is one of the holidays for protecting against thunder and hail. In the folk belief Saint Elija rules over the lightning and thunders. He roams about the sky by a golden chariot with the aim to kill the Lamia that grazes the cornfields. Saint Elija hurls fire arrows at her - thunders and lightning. If there is only lightning, then people say that this is a fire that comes out from the nostrils of the horses that are harnessed in the chariot.
   On Saint Elija's Day a sacrifice is made - the oldest cock. In some places fairs and sacrifices are offered. This is the day of fur-dressers, leather-workers and tile-makers.

     On the 20th July Bulgaria marks "Ilinden" - the day of the Holy Prophet Iliya /Elija/, or Saint Elija’s Day. In Bulgaria, this is also Name's Day for those named Iliya, Iliyan or Iliyana.
       In Bulgarian folklore, the face of Prophet Iliya is a hybrid of Christian and pagan mythology. He is believed to be the master of summer storms, hail, rain, thunder and dew. Icons usually picture him riding in a gold-plated chariot, with four white horses in harness.

      The hottest summer days in Bulgaria usually come in the middle of the month of July. Traditional folk calendar marks these days, called Gorestnitsi or Hot Days, on July 15, 16 and 17 and on July 20 - the holiday of Saint Elija – Saint Elija’s Day. How are these holidays celebrated, here are some details from Radio Bulgaria.
      The summer sun gets red hot, the air heats up, scorching heats destroy almost everything alive. It is as if the celestial fire has descended upon the earth. Thunderstorms set cornfields and dry meadows on fire. The sun and the fire, otherwise honoured by villagers as life-giving, turn up deadly. During the three days called Gorestnitsi, no one comes out in the field to work because according to olden beliefs fire will descent from the sky to set the sheaves ablaze. Legend has it, whoever pays no respect to these fiery holidays will end up with his house destroyed by fire. In by-gone times, on the third day of the Gorestnitsi, called Saint Marina of Fire, households should rekindle the fire in the hearth. The fire in the fireplace is put out and a new one is made in a ritual way – by rubbing two wooden pieces against each other. Housewives take some of the new fire, also called “living”, to their home. This ritual is said to symbolize the renewal of life, a fresh new life cycle.
      Saint Elija is revered as the patron of celestial fire. Legend has it, he holds
power over lightning and thunderbolts. That is why, he is called “the Thunderer” in some parts of Bulgaria. According to a folklore song, Saint Elija became the master of the fire element when in ancient times the world was shared out among 4 saints. Another folklore song tells the story of Saint Elija chasing a dragon with a gold, fiery chariot. When the saint shoots arrows after the dragon, people on the earth perceive these arrows as bolts of lightning, while the rattling of the chariot’s wheels sounds like thunders.
     People express their gratitude to Saint Elija for having their fields protected from the dragon and show their veneration of his power to master celestial fire by celebrating Saint Elija’s Day. The votive offering prepared on this day is impressive – a bull is ritually sacrificed. In some villages, if there is a tree stricken by a lightning, people sneak through the burnt hollow. Old belief has it, only the righteous are able to pass through easily.

Ancient Greek philosopher Herodotus writes about a ritual performed by the ancient inhabitants of Bulgarian lands – the Thracian tribes. Thracian archers would step outside and point their arrows to the sky. Thus, they believed they would help their god defeat in a battle a foreign god. This ancient ritual has been preserved by folklore traditions.

      The holiday is connected with the Slavic god of thunder and lightning – Perun - and by the same token, to Zmey, the good dragon of the Makaveyan Days.

    Folk tradition requires that to honour Elija the Thunderer we must kill the oldest rooster. In this way roosters in the house become younger. Same thing happens with the “roosters” in the village – on this day is the inauguration of new marriageable lads. This takes place in the village square before young and old. When a lad decides that he is old enough to keep house and raise a family, at the horo dance in the evening the oldest bachelor in the village takes from the lad’s mother or female relative a new red sash and ritually girds it on the lad.

     The bachelor holds one end of the sash, the lad takes the other end, puts it under his breast and turns round until the sash is girded on. Meanwhile the old bachelor blesses: “E-hey! As this sash is winding round, so the lasses wind round you!” “Amen!” say the others and the "twisted" horo dance starts.
        The old bachelor introduces the lad into the horo and he acquires the status of a bachelor who can flirt with the lasses without being funny in the eyes of the other young men. Then people go to the temple and eat together at table. Young women don’t wash themselves on that day because the Dragon will fall in love with the one that has washed herself. In addition to those bearing the name of the saint (Iliya, Iliana, Iliyan, Ilko, Ilka), this is the day of curriers, furriers, makers of packsaddles and roofing tiles.

 

Saint Elijah’s Day
    On July 20 the eastern Orthodox Church in Bulgaria reveres the memory of Saint Prophet Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament righteous men, a powerful dissembler of paganism, forerunner of the true faith in the one and only God. The Christian church has, since very early times, called him “Prophet and prophesier of God’s great deeds”, “Angel in flesh” and “Precursor of Christ’s second coming”.
        Prophet Elijah of the Old Testament lived some 900 years before Christ’s birth, a native of the town of Thesbia in Palestine. When he was born his father had a vision of august men congratulating him, wrapping the newborn infant in fiery swaddling clothes and then feeding him with helpings of fire. Deeply disturbed he ran to the priests in Jerusalem to tell them about his vision. They heard him out and pronounced: “Stay calm, you son will live in light and will stand in judgment on the Israeli people by means of fire and sword”. People of all times have revered his moral elevation and spiritual closeness with God. His steps in Palestine have to this day been considered sanctified by his power.
     The Day of Saint Prophet Elijah is among the best -revered feast days in Bulgaria. Many a church across the country, especially so in South western Bulgaria, are consecrated to the Prophet Elijah and graced by an icon of the Prophet. Practicing Christians honour the saint, who is a patron of lightning and thunder, keeping fire away from farmed fields. Saint Elijah brings rain and water; he protects life. This accounts for Saint Elijah’s traditional appellation of “the Thunderer”. In the popular mind he would race his golden chariot in the heavens shooting fire arrows.
       Saint Elijah’s Day or Illinden in Bulgarian is the best-loved summertime feast day in the long and sultry days of harvesting. On this day old people would recount tales or sing songs about the Saint Prophet Elijah, racing six stallions in a chariot up in the heavens, obtaining by prayer good health and welfare, good weather and bounty for the hard-working people. Elijah’s namesakes, that is the people named after him, and tradesmen such as furriers, saddlers and bakers, are said to be happiest on the day as Saint Prophet Elijah is their patron. On Saint Elijah’s day farmers traditionally set up prayers for rain. In certain parts of the country the great evil, the Dragon, symbol of draught, would be hunted down and away in a special ritual on the day preceding Saint Prophet Elijah’s feast.
      Two churches in the capital are consecrated to Saint Prophet Elijah. One of them is in the suburb of Knyajevo, running up the low hilly lands of the Vitosha Mountain, overlooking Sofia, built in the late 19th century. The churchyard hosts the tomb of Bali Effendi, a renowned Muslim priest and medicine man, who lived and provided cure to the ill here in the 16th century. The place is revered both by Muslims and Christians, who come to pay their respects in greatest numbers on 2 August, which is Saint Prophet Elijah’s day old style.

 

       Saint Ilia was a Judaic prophet and a wandering hermit, who lived in the time of the Israeli king of Ahav and queen Iesavel (Isabel). They worshipped the pagan god Vaal (Baal). Saint Ilia predicted horrible drought would befall the lands of the pagan king, which would be God’s way of punishing him for his sins. His prophecy came true and the Israeli people were tortured by drought for three and a half years. Only then did God show his mercy and sent his prophet to announce the end of the disaster. Saint Ilia is worshipped by all Christians as one of the greatest biblical prophets, along with Moses. His life story tells how, when he died, a fiery chariot, pulled by fiery horses, took him to the skies. This is how the saint is depicted by icon-painters – in a gold-plated sky chariot, pulled by four white horses. In the Christianized mythological believes, when the world was divided, Saint Ilia took the “summer thunders and storms”; he is the master of all summer sky elements and hailstorms. Ilinden (or the day of Saint Ilia) is celebrated as the day of the most important saint –“hailstormer”. In his honour, people make offerings by slaughtering the oldest rooster and baking round loafs for him. All-village fairs are organized. Ilinden is also the holiday of all members of the guild of curriers, furriers, packsaddle-makers, and tile-makers.

 

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Ged Dodd, Peace Havens Ltd, 1 Todar Petrov Street, Varbyane, Bulgaria.
Please Telephone 0044 1535 212 971, mobile in Bulgaria 0885 062 333.  
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