General about Christmas in Bulgaria
Unlike the rest of the Slavic countries, Bulgaria follows the Gregorian calendar and celebrates Christmas the 25th of December (the rest of the Slavic countries follows the Julian calendar which celebrate Christmas the 7th of January). In Bulgaria they call Christmas Rozhdestvo Hristovo, which literally means “Nativity of Jesus”. On the 25th of December Hristo have names day (I will tell you more about the big thing of names days in Bulgaria another time). The words that are being used for Santa Claus is Dyado Koleda (Grandfather Christmas) or Dyado Mraz (Grandfather Frost). December the 26th is a officially non-working day and is being counted as the second day of Christmas. This day the Bulgarians pay tribute to Virgin Mary which will bring their prayers to Jesus. But also fathers are being honored on the 26th of December since its the names day of Josef.
A short background to the Bulgarian Christmas
Just like many other countries Bulgarian Christmas had its origin in pagan celebration related to the winter solstice. The Orthodox church adopted the time and and marked it with a new Christian celebration (and so did the Roman catholic church). Christmas in Bulgaria has not always been easy celebrated. Bulgaria as many other countries on Balkan was during the Cold war a socialistic country and religious holidays were not allowed to be recognized. If you wanted to celebrate Christmas, you had to do it secretly and privately. Today Bulgaria happily celebrate Christmas again.
The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, has a Christmas market called Koledaria, that runs from the end of November until the 7th of January and takes place in the park Borisova Gradina. It first started the year of 2009. Here you can eat, drink and the children get to meet Santa Claus himself.
Bulgarian Christmas traditions
Бъдни вечер (Badnik vecher)
Badnik vecher refers to Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. It starts with a young man puts on his best clothes and cut down a tree (an oak, elm or a pear tree), from which he will cut the log. Before its being cut down its necessary to pray for forgiveness, after that he needs to carry it on his right shoulder without letting it touch the ground. The badnik is the log that is being shaped from the tree. Depending on where in Bulgaria you live their will be different rituals around this log. Some people make a hole in the log and fill it with Chrism (a mix of oil, incense and wine), plug the hole and wrap it with a with linen cloth, and then burn it. During the burning the family is gathered around the badnik, praying for the next year to bring happiness, food, riches, luck and love. The word badnik means future. You will also find this ceremony in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What is koledari?
Koledari is traditionally one/some young men between 16-21 years old that walks around the neighborhood, singing songs and with a branch tap the people on their shoulders to wish them luck. During the regime of the socialism this was of course forbidden, but the wish lucking with the branch lived on but was moved from Christmas to new years eve.
Next article I will introduce you to the Christmas food of Bulgaria. Честита Коледа (Chestita Koleda=Merry Christmas)!
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