The Orthodox Christian celebrates Easter according to the Julian calendar. The Orthodox countries on Balkan have many similarities when it comes to the Easter celebration, however there are local variations of the feast. No matter if you are religious or not, there are certain traditions that still lives on in the Bulgarian modern life with focus on the food and the symbolism of eggs.
Bulgaria and the Orthodox Church
The Palm Sunday is the beginning of the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter and the Holy Week. The Maundy Thursday is dedicated to eggs and egg painting (more information further down in the article), and on the 5th day of the Holy Week, Bulgarians commemorate the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Bulgarian Orthodox Churches holds many liturgies connected to the suffering of Jesus on the cross on the mornings of the Good Friday and reading from the Gospels. The fasting is very strict on this day, at the same time they are getting prepared for that the 40 days of fasting soon is over. On the Holy Saturday the churches continues with their liturgies, and it usually takes place early in the morning as well as in the midnight to Easter Sunday. Around midnight people are gathering outside the churches with white candles and tell each other “Christos Voskrese“(Christ has risen) and the other reply “Vo istina Voskrese” (Indeed he has risen). This doesn’t stop by midnight but continues to be told to beloved ones during the whole Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday the 40 days of Lent is over and Bulgarians usually gather together with friend and family to have a nice meal of lamb meat. They also eat a traditional sweat bread called Kozunak . On Easter Monday, the religious people are contemplating over the Lent and the Holy Week. In general it is a relaxed day in Bulgaria where you are enjoying family and friends and finishing left over from the celebrations.
The Symbolic Red Egg
In the Orthodox Easter the egg plays an important role. To paint eggs are an old tradition and specially important is the red painted egg. It is believed that the red egg possess magical powers. On the Holy Week (the last week of the Lent, and for the Easter celebrations) you are suppose to paint the eggs on Maundy Thursday. The red egg symbolize the blood of Christ, and it is believed that Virgin Mary painted an egg red. The red egg also symbolize life and fertility.
In the old society of Bulgaria it was forbidden to collect eggs on Thursday, but Maundy Thursday was an exception. It was believed that the first egg that was collected was the most powerful egg and was also suppose to be painted red. After that, the red egg was carefully put on a piece of textile/napkin and put in a sieve, it was believed that the sun would see it and smile. It is said that this red egg has the power to heal and protect from danger. Women all ages used this egg for all kind of rituals, and there are many traditional songs of the women that paints the egg red.
The Legend of the Red Egg and Father Easter
The ethnologist Nikolay Nikov explain how the red egg had a vital role already before Christianity, that the tradition comes from an ancient legend about the Father Easter. The legend tells about a kingdom that was ruled by an evil wizard, he kept the sun and the water locked up in a cave by 9 padlocks. The people of the kingdom worked from day til night but nothing would grow, there were no birds or animals longer living there. Up in the high mountain lived a man with his two children, a boy and a girl. One day he went to the forest to get roots as food, as he walked in the forest he found an egg and he decided to paint it red and brought it back to his children to play with. During the same night he dreamt about a man with long white beard coming to him, the Father Easter, warning him about the evil wizard that the next would visit his home, but he shouldn’t fear, but take the red egg and put in his hands and hold it above his head and then he vanished. And just like Father Easter had predicted, the evil wizard came to his home the next day, in a carriage led by dragons. As he remembered his dream and the warning he run into the house and got the red painted egg and hold it above his head. The red egg released a strong light that blinded the evil wizard and his power was forever lost. The evil wizard disappeared and the people freed the sun and the water from the cave, and the life came back to the forest and fields as so did the birds and animals.
The Ceremony of Egg Painting in Modern Bulgaria
Back in the days people painted their eggs by boiling them together with different plants and herbs that released color to the eggs. Today majority of the Bulgarians are buying special color for just egg paintings. Its colored powder that mixes with vinegar, hot water and the boiled eggs. Then they stay in the color for as long as you want. You can mix different colors to create cool effects. Religious or not, young as old Bulgarians are still painting their Easter eggs and have great fun. And there are probably not many people that buries the egg on their field to give good harvest or close to their homes for protection, but many people still keeps the first painted red egg in their home, next to an icon or on a shell or just in the fridge.
Borak- The Egg Fight
As a traditional game the Bulgarians are preforming an egg fight. Everyone pick up a painted egg and then fight another one with a painted egg. The goal is to by taping the egg point on the other egg to make it break. The winner (the one with a whole egg and not cracked one) gets to meet another one, and so it continues until there is only one whole egg left that is the ultimate winner of the egg fight. The winner is considered to be blessed with luck for the upcoming year. Some jokes that the winner should crack the egg on his or her forehead to break it, other teasing that the winner will not get any egg to eat. The egg fight is something that all Bulgarians are enjoying around Easter!
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