So both the 6-7th of January are mostly man dominated days, so let´s focus on the 8th of January´s big celebration; Babin den, the day were the women stands in the spot light. This holiday also ends the three days of water rituals.
What is Babin den?
Babin den is the day when Bulgarians celebrate and honor the elder women and midwives in the villages. In the past (well, not so long ago) the midwives where the ones to help younger women to give birth. Babin den is the day when all children that was born in the previous year and their mothers gather at the house of the midwife and perform rituals connected to the family. This holiday is very old and goes back to the pagan times of Bulgaria and have managed to survive until now days. In 1951 Babin den became an official holiday of Bulgaria. Babin den is being celebrated in Bulgaria but also in Serbia and Russia.
The many variations of rituals around Babin den
In the first ritual the midwife is bathing the baby/babies (and small children) and after that she will give the babies/children numerous of blessings. After that she gives the babies an anointment with honey and butter. She also gives wool and ritual performed bread as gifts to the babies. This is a ritual to keep the babies healthy.
The mothers that been giving birth in the last year and got help from the midwife will give her a feast with bread, roasted chicken and wine. They will also help her to wash her clothes or get her new ones, sometimes the gifts are useful kitchen tools. When the feast of the young mothers are over comes the time for the ritual bathing of the midwife. In some parts of Bulgaria the young mothers will bring the midwife to the biggest well of the village or in the river/lake/sea where the midwife gets her bath. They decorate themselves with red pepper and wool. On the way to the well or river/lake/sea they sing songs with erotic motives and dance. Since no men are allowed on this day, the men that they meet on their way to the bathing can be sure of being teased.
In some parts of Bulgaria it is the midwife that early in the morning the pays a tribute to the young mothers home to celebrate. The midwives organize the dinner table with roasted chicken, bread, wine. In some villages the tradition goes that they making a tall pile of dough nuts on top of each other in front of the midwife, where behind the pile she can make herself a wish.
In other parts the ritual bathing takes place at the midwifes home where the young mothers bring water from the well, soap and a towel to perform the ceremony.
Sometimes the bathing ritual is being performed outdoors under a fruit tree in the garden or to the front stairs to the house. All the woman hands the soap to the midwife, pour water over her and then give her a towel. The midwife, who says have special powers, dry her hand on the woman’s skirt for fertilization and for an easy birth giving in the future. During the washing the midwife splash water up in the air, make three jumps meanwhile saying: “So may jump the kids and become red and white! May the harvest and health and health be abundant as the water droplets” (red and white are a symbol for health- clear skin and rosy cheeks, I will describe these colors more in my upcoming article about Martinitsa). After the midwife received her gifts, she return a tie of bracelet made from red and white threads with a silver coin on the right arm of each baby/child. The midwife also washes the face of the baby/child in a ritual ceremony.
The one ritual that includes man
There is a certain ceremonial bathing called Vlechugane were actually men are allowed to participate to. They take the midwife out and put her in a carriage/sleigh and make it down to the river where they bathing the midwife. The men dress up as oxen with hidden faces through masks and with horns, carrying the carriage/sleigh through the village to the river. They also play music during the way.
It is said that the water that has been touch by the midwife has a cleaning and magical powers.
It was believed that an curtain order was necessary to be done for the delivery of the child without any complications. For instance, the midwife needed to light a float light, untie everything that was tied in the house and close all the windows. The actual birth had to remind a secret for everyone except from the midwife and the mother in law. After the birth the new mother had to stay in the home alone until the child was baptized.
Babin den today
This ancient ritual has of course changed over the years and many of these rituals from above have changed character over the times. Many woman still honors their elderly woman around them by celebration and ritually clean their hands with water, and feast dinner.
The word Babin comes from the Bulgarian word Baba which means grandmother. The day of the granny.
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