New Years. January 1-2. Bulgarians like to bring in the New Year amidst family and friends. Many eat foods that are considered lucky (and avoid unlucky foods) and carry on old traditions, especially involving wishing for good health and prosperity. A lot of people drink rakia, a type of grape brandy (because there’s nothing like toasting to good health with alcohol. I do it every weekend. So far, so good.). Some people take the twigs of a dogwood tree and tie colored pieces of paper to them. Children will give these twigs to their parents, grandparents, and family members to wish them a good new year, in exchange for candies, trinkets, and coins. Cheese banitsas with cornel (dogwood) buds baked in are also quite popular (but I’m wondering where would you get dogwood buds in January?) It’s also a time for people to buy new clothes.
Granny Martha Day. March 1. Also called Baba Marta in Bulgaria. It’s based on a folklore story of Baba Marta, an old woman who was usually angry with January (a great horned beetle) and February (a small horned beetle). When she got angry, there was a change of weather. Tradition also has it that another old woman (April) was bringing her flock to the mountains toward the end of March and asked to borrow a few days, so Baba Marta made it snow and froze the flock. I have a feeling there are some gaps in this folklore story that I’m missing. People usually celebrate this folklore story by wearing red and white woven bracelets, the red representing “life or birth” and the white standing for “new,” so together, it means a “new life” or “rebirth.”
Liberation Day. March 3. This celebrates Bulgaria’s independence and liberation from Ottoman Rule. Known elsewhere as the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, it became known as the Liberation War in Bulgaria. The Ottomans had controlled the area for nearly 500 years, and it was officially declared freed with the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano. People celebrate by placing flowers and wreaths at liberation monuments, and for those cities which were ravaged during the war, it’s celebrated in a more subdued manner. Some places will celebrate with fireworks, though. Other places will celebrate with speeches and ceremonies (especially at Sofia’s Unknown Soldier Monument) as well as street parades.
Women’s Day. March 8. Also known as International Women’s Day. It started as a day of appreciation towards women’s achievements in politics, economics, and society. It’s not considered a public holiday, but in Bulgaria, it’s also treated like Mother’s Day where children will give gifts (and especially flowers) to their mothers, grandmother, and other important women in their lives, like teachers, etc.
Good Friday. Varies. Also called Orthodox Good Friday. Businesses and schools close for this day, and many will attend special church services. Churches will often set a table as a symbol of the coffin of Christ. Some practitioners will climb underneath it in hopes of having health and fertility for the next year. (I’m having trouble finding the correlation between the two. I suppose maybe it’s the climbing out from underneath it.) Bulgarians will dye eggs red either the day before (on Maundy Thursday) or the day after (on Easter Saturday), in hopes of good health and fortune and will keep it until the next Easter. (I’m certainly hoping they hollowed it out. Otherwise, I guess be careful you don’t drop it, even it is hardboiled.)
Easter. Varies. Also called Orthodox Easter. For the roughly six weeks of Lent, people will fast from eating all animal and fish and their products (like milk, butter, caviar, eggs, etc.) – basically a vegan diet. So, when Easter comes, they celebrate with a huge feast full of all the things they’ve been avoiding during the Lenten season. One common food is a braided bread called a kozunak (probably similar in concept and origin to the choreg I made from Armenia), and lamb is always served (one of my favorite meats).
Easter Monday. Varies. Also called Orthodox Easter Monday. Many people take this day to relax from the events of the past Holy Week. Some call it Bright Monday or New Monday, since people are celebrating the joyousness of the holiday after Easter now. I really wish we had Easter Monday in the US, just because it’s so hard to run all over on Easter and then have to get up and go to work the next day.
Labor Day. May 1. Celebrated in many of the ways it is celebrated internationally, Labor Day is a holiday celebrating the struggles of the worker and promoting fair labor practices.
St. George’s Day. May 6. This day is in honor of the Bulgarian Land Forces. They were established in 1878 and comprised of mostly anti-Ottoman forces. They currently enlist on a voluntary basis, even though that has not been the case in the past (during the communist years, there was a required two-year conscription). Currently, there are peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The holiday is named after St. George, one of the most prominent military saints. There are large parades held in Sofia. It’s also a popular tradition to prepare a whole lamb on this day.
Radio and Television Day. May 7. In Eastern Europe, most people credit Alexander Popov with the invention of the radio, as opposed to people in the West attributing the honor to Tesla and even going back further to Marconi. In 1885, Popov gave a demonstration of his invention to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society. It’s an official holiday in both Russia and Bulgaria.
Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Literature Day. May 24. More specifically, this is a day in honor of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two saints who developed the Cyrillic alphabet while studying and working on translations in a school in Plovdiv in the mid-800s AD. It’s become a holiday that promotes pride in their own culture and using language as a means of making gains in the sciences and the arts.
Unification Day. September 6. This day commemorates the uniting of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia. The Treaty of Berlin (a revision of the San Stefano Treaty) read that Eastern Roumelia (whose capital was Plovdiv) was returned to the Ottoman Empire after the Russo-Turkish War. Believing this to be unfair, Bulgarians waged peaceful demonstrations against this. However, on September 6, a small group of nationals marching in and retook over Plovdiv, and the word had gotten to the Ottomans and the rest of the world that Bulgaria had reunited with the Eastern Roumelia province. The holiday is especially celebrated in Plovdiv, but elsewhere throughout the country as well.
Independence Day. September 22. This marks the independence from the Ottoman Empire. Even though Bulgaria had gained autonomy after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and had united with Eastern Roumelia in 1885, it didn’t officially become an independent sovereign nation until 1908. The old capital of Veliko Tarnovo, the site of the official signing of independence, is where many of the largest celebrations occur, but the entire country is decorated in white, green, and red and has their own festivities.
Revival Day. November 1. The first Revival Day was in 1908, just after gaining independence. At one point, just after WWII, it was almost a non-existent holiday. However, after escaping from communist rule in the 1990s, Revival Day made a comeback. It’s not such a glamorous holiday with fireworks and parades and such. It’s more of a holiday geared toward the hope that their country can come together and become more stable politically and economically.
Christmas Eve and Christmas. December 24-26. The odd thing is that Bulgaria is mostly an Orthodox country, which normally celebrates Christmas on January 7, but Bulgarians celebrate it on the same days as Catholics and Protestants. Christmas Eve dinner is an assortment of grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts. Twelve different dishes were prepared to represent the twelve different months. Walnuts are especially cracked to use as a prediction for the coming year. They also bake a round bread with a coin inside, and whoever gets the coin is rewarded with good fortune (which will come in handy for those dental bills from biting into a coin). There’s one belief that Mary actually gave birth to the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve, but just announced it on Christmas Day. Another legend says that she was actually in labor from December 20 until she gave birth. (I was in labor for 19 hours with my daughter, and that was exhausting enough. So four days is beyond me.) Christmas Day brings an elaborate meal (with meat, usually pork). Koledari are carolers, usually men dressed in traditional clothes, who go from house to house singing carols. It’s thought to ward off evil spirits. (As a music major, I think singing in and of itself wards off evil spirits. But only if it’s in tune. And in good taste.)
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