Can you imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree or without Santa Claus? Or, even worse, without presents? Well, in Bulgaria the Christmas tradition seemed to be totally different! If you wonder what was it like, go on reading. You can have a true Bulgarian Christmas at home and can be real fun! All you need to know is a couple of things.
Not one, but a lot of holidays! The first of them is called “Ignazhden” after the Holy Hieromartyr Ignatius . So if you know someone, whose name is Ignatius, don’t forget to call on him on 20th December. According to the Bulgarian tradition, he should give you a hearty welcome. It is a very important day, because the magic of Christmas get s activated. And it is so strong, that the prosperity of your home during the entire New Year depends on who will cross your doorstep first. If he is a good man, hard-worker, generous, and magnanimous, the New Year would bring a lot of health, happiness and luck for you and your family. So my advice is you to invite such a man in advance. If you’re a woman, that day you should sweep the chimneys - not to have fleas during the spring and summer. Th e n throw chestnuts in the cattle sheds - sheep to breed. You also have some more housework, but let’s stop here. The point is that the magic of the day is so strong, that everything done has a symbolic meaning. Sweeping the floor equals to a very strong conjuration. Have you ever wanted to be a witch? If you’re a man, you should slaughter the pig for the Christmas table. (Or to go to the nearest butcher’s shop, but the feeling is not the same.) Another very important mission for you: to choose the leader of the group of “koledari” among your friends. This group has a key role on the Christmas day. Good news – a very rich dinner. B a d news – on the table that evening should be only lenten dishes and wine. Why? According to the Orthodox Christian Church the good Christian should eat no meat, no cheese, no milk and eggs for a period of 40 days before Christmas. That evening the oldest woman gives each one of the family special circle bread, which has to be kept until 1st January. Why? The circle bread symbolizes the circle of life. It is a talisman, and in it is concentrated a lot of magic power.
Christmas Eve is a holiday important as much, as Christmas day! How the Christmas Eve goes? 1) The oldest man of the family brings a “budnik” (in Bulgarian the Christmas Eve is called “Budni vecher”) – a thick and long piece of wood. It should be on fire all the night and not go out. It is believed that as many sparkles there are in the fire, as much wealth and prosperity there will be at the house next year. 2) You should scatter the straw about the floor and set the table there. (May be it isn't comfortable enought, but was it comfortable to Baby Christ in that crib, where he was ling?) 3) The oldest man censes the table with frankincense to dispel the evil spirits. 4) The bread has a cental role in the ritual. It even has a name, but probably you won't ad d ress it, so it's not so important. It must be kneaded by the young women in the family in a special way. Then they put a silver coin in it. The bread must be round and decorated in a special way. The first piece of the bread is dedicated to the house, the second – to St. Mary. Now you should pray the coin to be in your piece of bread, because in that case you will be blessed with hap p iness for the next year! (Wish you luck!) The girls can put a bit of the bread under their pillow, and they will dream the one, who will marry them.
5) The number of the dishes is sacral. Everyone should taste each of them to have good fortune during the next year. Attention! Nobody should stand up during the dinner! If you do this… no one can tell you what will happen, because it ha s n’t been done till now. 6) The walnuts are on the table to be cracked after the dinner. Another fortune-telling – if your walnut is good, you will be healthy, but if it is not – it is better to check up your health insurance. And you should put in your pocket a piece of garlic. The Christmas Eve is the first of the 12 “dirty days”. This is the most dangerous time of the year – around the earth wander all kinds of evil creatures: ghouls, vampires, bogles, goblins, and especially the Bulgarian “karakondzhuli” (you mustn’t know what they are). 7) At least you should do one more thin g – NOT to clear the table! May be your dea d grandparents will drop in to have dinner, too.
Interesting facts: - For the first time a Christmas tree was decorated at the Bulgarian court in 1879. - Christmas trees have been sold in the streets of the towns since 20s of the 20th century. - Initially the Christmas trees in Bulgaria were decorated with popcorn, dried fruits and other home-made decoration.
In Bulgaria there is a common belief that the whole next year is correlated with Christmas Eve; the forthcoming year will be as good as this special evening. Therefore the whole family becomes involved in performing the rituals. For Orthodox Christians, Christmas comes after 40 days and nights of fasting. The forty-day Advent, started on November 15, finishes on this day. Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of Jesus began her labors on St. Ignatius’ Day and gave birth to God’s son on Christmas Eve, but that she told of it only on the next day. Throughout the fasting period, Orthodox Bulgarians will avoid alcohol and animal products. Even the festive dinner on the eve of Christmas is vegetarian and includes no meat, cheese, milk, eggs or animal oils. Bulgaria's Orthodox Church recommends 13 different foods on 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 a traditional Christmas Eve dish in Bulgaria, as families gather that evening to a meatless holiday meal.The return to meat and dairy comes on Christmas day, with, one should hope, a cleansed mind and spirit for the coming year. This is the most important family event of the year.