Soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Bulgarians rediscovered their own Christian-orthodox traditions. During Communism, as according to socialist theory, religion was almost completely banned from public life. The last week of December used to be a normal working week. Only on the 31st of December, people made gifts to each other, since a new year was beginning. As a counterpart of capitalist Santa Claus, it was Jack Frost that came along with presents.
Now 'Badni Vecher' (meaning Christmas Eve) is celebrated on the 24th, other than most orthodox communities that celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Ecclesiastical Calendar, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has already accepted the revised Julian calendar.
Although more than twenty years have passed, the consequences of banning one of the most important Christian festivities still can be observed – a mixture of Christian traditions and pagan rituals characterises the celebrations, as well as the consumerist influence and shiny decorations in the cities.
Still, in many villages, the so-called 'Koledari' (singing young men) ring every door bell in order to lightly tap people with decorated sticks to bring health, luck and wealth for the New Year and to chase away evil spirits. Often the Koledari receive wine or money for their visits. The pagan ritual is mostly a colourful celebration with a lot of music.
Vegan dishes and food for the deceased
On Christmas Eve, the 40-day-period of fasting ends, On this occasion, an odd number of dishes is served for Christmas dinner, and, according to the tradition, all dishes have to be vegan. At the beginning of the meal, homemade bread is divided among all family members and their pets, and, more symbolically, offered to the Holy Virgin Mary as well as God.
In one of the pieces of bread a coin is hidden – it is believed that the one who finds it will be blessed with luck all throughout the upcoming New Year. After finishing the meal, the leftovers must stay on the table. People believe that the deceased will enjoy the food at night when everyone sleeps.
Although these traditions are not new, the enthusiasm for religion is getting stronger, not only in Christmas traditions. More and more people are getting married in church, and the number of christenings is increasing. However, in general, faith is not very important in everyday life. The search for stability and support in economically rough times is, however, one reason for the increased interest in religion.
The burning log of wood
Another popular tradition is called 'Budnik', which is a log that is chopped by a young family member in order to burn it on Christmas Eve. The name refers to the Bulgarian word for future. Although there are regional varieties of the tradition, the idea of a log of wood predicting the future is common in all areas of the country.
In some regions, people believe that if the log completely falls into ashes the morning after it set alight, the following year will be rough. If it was only burnt in the centre, the year will be promising.
In contrast, others believe that the warmth of the burning log is a symbol for Christ and for welcoming the Holy Virgin Mary and the deceased.
Pagan and Christian traditions go hand in hand during Bulgarian Christmas. This is due to the lack of educated clerical members in the country’s history. The struggle for the maintenance of Bulgarian own culture and beliefs caused an interconnection of different influences, that is still persistent.
The Bulgarian national staff, just like the whole Team of Cosmopublic.eu, would like to thank all of our readers for their interest in and support of our work and wish you and your close ones a Merry Christmas, a happy festive season and a healthy and successful year 2015!