Bulgarian Christmas Eve
According to Bulgarian tradition, the Christmas celebrations start on
December 24th, called “Badni Vecher” (meaning Christmas Eve, or Small
Christmas). It is believed that if life is good on Christmas Eve,
so life will be good during the whole of the following year. Therefore
Christmas Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Bulgaria with the
whole family becoming involved in performing the rituals. A special
diner, consisting of at least twelve dishes is prepared. All of
are without meat and each of them represents a separate month of the
year. The dishes consist of beans, different kinds of nuts, dried
plums, cakes, and the traditional Christmas Banitza bread which has
lucky wishes and a silver coin in it. The tradition is that the person who
gets the coin will be the luckiest in the family during the
approaching New Year. The whole family gathers, eating on
straw bales and leaving the table together.
So, Christmas Eve
in Bulgaria may also be called "Sukha Koleda" (Dry Christmas), "Malka
Koleda" (Little Christmas) or "Kadena Vecher" (Incensed Night). For
Orthodox Christians, Christmas comes after 40 days and nights of
fasting. The forty-day Advent, started on November 15, finishes on
this day. Throughout the fasting period, Orthodox Bulgarians will
avoid alcohol and animal products. Even the festive dinner on the eve
of Christmas does not include meat, cheese, milk, eggs
or animal oils.
from your friends in Bulgaria
Orthodox Church recommends 13 different foods for the
Christmas Eve meal
(salt, pepper and sugar are seen as separate foods). The foods are
vegetable and odd in number for luck. Beans are the traditional
Christmas Eve dish in Bulgaria, as families gather that evening for a
meatless holiday meal. There are always walnuts on the table.
Traditionally, wheat is boiled and dishes such as boiled haricot beans,
leaves stuffed with rice or grouts, and stewed dried fruit are cooked.
Wheat grains and the Ignazhden Kolaks (Saint Ignatius’ Day ring-shaped
cake) are also put on the table and there are Kravai (round breads with
holes in them) carried on long sticks (Rkoledaris).
Christmas Eve table, fortunes are told. To predict what the year is
going to be, everyone cracks a walnut. If it is good and delicious, the
year is going to be lucky, if the walnut is empty, you can expect a bad
year. Predictions are also made for the weather in each month of the new
year, the expected crops, each family member's health, and for the
coming marriages of the girls. As you can understand, the Christmas Eve
requires much time and the efforts of each family member. The women-folk
early in the morning and are busily preparing the festive meals during
the whole day. They spare no effort to be ready with everything and
observe the tradition when Christmas Eve comes. It is believed that the
way Christmas Eve goes is the way life goes during the following year.
With no work to be done in the fields, everyone's efforts become
home-centred. Certainly, a festival as important as Christmas Eve
deserves to be celebrated in the proper manner.
Legends connected with Christmas say that if you borrow salt and don't
return it, you will have trouble with your eyes. If your ear aches on
Christmas this is an indication that an angel has passed by you. You
make the sign of the cross three times and whatever you think of will
Christmas Lights in
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Only boys participate as major figures in the ritual known as
Koleduvane. Its purpose is to wish health, good luck and fertility
to the heads of households, to their houses, livestock, land, etc.
The koledari, as those participating in the ritual are called, are
divided into two age groups. Each group may consist of 10 or more
koledari who separate the homes of their villages or neighbourhood among
themselves, to be sure each will be blessed. The preparations
the learning of songs and dances, and the decoration of
costumes, which include the kalpaci (fur hats) decorated with
bouquets of boxwood and wild geranium, carved wooden staffs,
yamurluci (hooded cloaks) which are made to size, sandals, and new
fancy leggings. The fancy embroidery on the white shirts is
especially beautiful. The koledari songs are characteristically lively, happy and festive,
and are performed antiphonally. The group divides into two
subgroups, then one groups begins, and the second group repeats what
the first group has just sung. The songs can be divided into several
themes: those which are sung on the road from one house to another,
those which are sung while entering or leaving a house, those
devoted to the head of the house, those for the women, those for
small children, those for unmarried girls, those for soldiers, those
for the livestock, those for the fertility of the fields, and so on.
At the end of the performance, the head of the household gives
stedro (from his heart) - so called Koledni gevreci (round buns),
multi-layered pastry filled with feta-like cheese, fruits, walnuts,
popcorn and other traditional delicacies).
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Today, Christmas is still a very special family holiday in modern
Bulgaria. In the cities, the Koledari tradition is not followed as
strictly as in the villages. However, city dwellers should not be
surprised if kids (Survakarcheta) knock on the door after midnight
on Christmas to sing a song, wishing happiness, love, health and
wealth during the coming year. The Survachka
is a richly-decorated wooden stick used in Bulgaria's most
Christmas ritual - Survakane. Children, mostly young
boys, use the sticks to lightly beat relatives and friends on
the back, while reciting or singing verses of ritual good wishes
for health and wealth. The vivid Survachka
sticks must be made of cornel-tree wood (a
bush, actually) and decorated with popcorn, dried fruits, small coins
and coloured threads.
On December 25, after the festive mass starting at 12:00 am , all should
drink a sip of wine so that the divine blessing should come upon them as
fasting ends. A place at the table is left vacant for the deceased
(relatives or other dear people). The table is not cleared for the night
because people believe that the deceased will come to dinner.
December 26 in Bulgaria is celebrated as the second
day of Christmas. It is officially a non-working day. It is a day to
pay tribute to Jesus' mother Virgin Mary. Bulgarians believe that
Virgin Mary will bring their prayers to Jesus, as she is the person
closest to Him.
December 27, the third day of Christmas, is
Stefanovden (St. Stefan's
Day). The ones who have this name day are given gifts, people sing songs
and play the Bulgarian Horo dance. They dance for the last time in the square the
“Christmas Buenek dance”.
On to the New Year..
On January 1, New Year's Day, (Vasilovden - St Basil), the
traditional ritual of 'Survakane' (Surva, Survaki)
takes place and is very
popular even today because this is when the Bulgarian boys receive their
New Year's presents after tapping people on the back with decorated
Cornel-Twig to wish them well.
On this day the Christians
celebrate the day of St. Basil the Great – a Christian saint, thinker,
philosopher and writer.
This is the name day
of people called Vasil, Vasilka, Veselina, Vasa, and Vasilena.
Let there be as much health in this house as there is wild geranium in the
mountains, is a blessing- quote from a Christmas song, accounting for the
tradition of fixing a small posy of wild geranium on one’s dress on
festive days. The evergreen geranium plant is the
symbol of good health and vitality in Bulgarian traditions.
Also on January 1, there is
the young girls get together to tell fortunes
about their forthcoming marriages.
The purpose is to ensure the realization of the most
cherished dream for a happy family life through the magic of the word
and the use of Pogacha bread at women only rituals.
The Laduvane (Daylada,
Taylada, ring dipping) also takes place on
St. George's Day,
St. Lazar's day.
With this ritual the young girls foretell who the lad they are
going to marry will be and they ask Lada, the goddess of love and
marriage to show them what he will be like.
On this day the
girls bring water from the spring or the well in a white cauldron. This
water has different names depending in the day in which the ritual is
performed - quiet, untouched or colourful. After they bring the water
the girls gather in a house and each of them leaves her ring or a bunch
of flowers with a ring around them, or a bracelet in the cauldron. They
leave the cauldron under the roses or some other kinds of flowers during
the night under the stars. In the morning one of the lasses or a young
child dressed as a bride takes the rings and the flowers out of the
water and the rest of the girls are singing short songs. They sing about
a fore-coming marriage, happiness in the marriage, social status and
qualities of the
husband: "a ripe and over-ripe quince" (the
girl will be old when she gets married);
"alone you are on a stone" (she
will marry an orphan);
"a yellow veil gathers splinters" (the
girl will get married).
Each girl takes some oats from the cauldron and puts it under her
pillow. They believe that whoever the boy they dream about that night is
that will be the one they are going to marry. Their health during the
next year is foretold by whether or not the water is freezing in the
cauldron. The celebration ends with a big Horo dance.
January 2 is Sylvester Day, which is the day of all cattle, according to a
particular myth. Stables and cattle-sheds everywhere are cleaned specially by
the boys who are sent from house to house, tapping families with the Survachki and receiving
items of food in return. Villagers leave wine, bread and meat in the
cattle-sheds as a gift for the boys, who are known as koledari.
The Bulgarian Christmas in
The way Christmas is celebrated in
Bulgaria nowadays is very similar to the way this is done around the
world - festoons, Christmas trees, men dressed up like Father
Christmas giving out presents. Fortunately for us, alongside these
festive elements, popular throughout the world, Bulgarians still
respect the olden Christmas rituals of the land.
Every household more or less observes the traditional menu of meatless
dishes on Christmas Eve, as well as the special Christmas day dinner.
It is true that now it is rare to see the one-time groups of men going
round the houses singing Christmas carols and wishing everyone
prosperity and health. Yet, this ritual is alive in the numerous
concerts and show programmes organized around Christmas time. But even
from the stage, their songs have a magnetic charm. Frequently, the
performers are elderly men, who still remember the traditional
carolling ritual of olden times, when it still existed in villages.
They themselves gladly remember how they took part in the group of men
going round all the village houses, where they were received with joy
and given gifts for the songs they have sung.
traditional Bulgarian Christmas gifts were very different to the ones
exchanged nowadays. Carol singers and the children of the family used
to be given dried fruit, walnuts and popcorn, special Christmas buns.
The younger men-carol singers were also given a piece of spicy sausage
or fresh bacon as well as some warming brandy. The carol-singing group
had a special man to receive and carry these gifts. He was called by
different funny names, depending on the region - donkey, cat...He also
took care to add to this with jokes and banter and lift the spirits of
the carol singers as well as the hosts of each household. There was
also a masked group of men, who followed in the singer's footsteps. In
most regions, the masquerade group enacted a parody wedding, with the
bride and the grandmother being played by men in women's clothing. The
masquerade bride and groom were a symbol of the forthcoming annual
change of season, the circle of life bringing fertility, new weddings,
Unlike the comic mock wedding, the carol singers had a very serious
role to play. They performed religious rites by singing songs and
telling stories. According to tradition, the blessings of the carol
singers will come true. That is why some people impatiently awaited
Christmas night, so as to invite the carol-singing group into their
homes. The Christmas repertoire included songs with poetic blessings
for each and everyone, according to their age, family and social
In one typical well-wishing to the father - the head of the family,
the men sing: "The mother of God makes a blessing: may God bring three
rivers to flow through your fields: one of yellow wheat, the next of
sparkling wine, the third of white milk. This kind of abundance was
the dream of every farmer. Just as the dream of the young girl was
like the story from the Christmas carol about pretty Vida, whose shirt
sparkled with embroidered Sun, Moon and stars and the shirt itself was
a gift from the mother of God. In Christmas carols, the unmarried
young man is invariably a courageous hero, who appears on horseback,
to perform all kinds of feats along his way.
Finally, when they have sung different blessings to the hosts, the
carol singers tell their mission in verse. It is to walk the long road
from the Earthly, human world to the "yonder world" where they will
receive the blessing of their ancestors and bring it back to the
people. Thus, they help overcome the cosmic chaos on the borderline
between this and the next year. Carol singers come back from this long
journey with the good news, that the universe will re-gain its order
and vitality. They also bring the news of the birth of the young God,
and tell how his mother invited the saints to the feast in honour of
her newborn son. This Christian element is combined with the older
mythological layer - in Christmas carols, the young God comes down to
the people at Christmas on a magic tree, whose roots are deep in the
Earth, and its top reaches the sky. This miraculous tree of life and
of the world is heavy with silver leaves and gold fruit.
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