Bulgaria is not the only Eastern European country celebrating an Orthodox Christmas, but because they follow the Gregorian calendar, they celebrate the birth of the Savior on December 25.
The Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII who introduced it in 1582 is the most used calendar in the world. Bulgaria is using it too, so it will observe Christmas like the West on December 25, unlike other Easter European countries that celebrate January 7 according to the Julian calendar.
Orthodox Christmas traditions in Bulgaria revolve around religion and family. Preparations begin with the Advent, 40 days before December 25, enough time for families to clean up their homes, fast, and prepare sweets for the season. Christmas Eve (Badni Veche) on December 24 is an occasion to gather around the table to enjoy a rich meal, which usually consists of pita bread (pitka), sarmi, stuffed peppers, and other vegetarian, seasonal dishes. Interestingly, the number of dishes at the Christmas Eve table, like the number of participants, has to be odd: 7, 9, or 11. The traditional Christmas bread, pitka, pita, or
The traditional Christmas bread, pitka or pita, is fascinating as well: a coin is placed inside the dough during the kneading process, then the bread is baked, and served. The person who finds the coin while eating is said to have good luck in the upcoming year. Typically, leftovers of the Christmas Eve meal remain on the table overnight to allow the ghosts of the deceased relatives of the participants to feast as well.Christmas Eve is the last night of fasting in Bulgaria. An odd number of vegetarian meals is served.Click To Tweet
Another important presence at the Christmas Eve table is the walnut. Walnuts are cracked and consumed by all participants. But if you are superstitious, you may not like to know that if the first walnut you crack is a bad one you will have bad luck in the year to come.
Although many homes have a beautifully decorated Christmas trees, some families still bring in the house a budnik (similar to a yule log) on Christmas Eve.The budnik is an important part of Christmas Eve preparations.Click To Tweet
A young man is sent to cut an oak or a pear tree. He is supposed to pray for forgiveness before he choppes it down. The log will be then carried home on the right shoulder, without allowing it to touch the ground. A budnik is typically filled with oil, inceses, and wine, then wrapped in white linnen, and burned. According to the legend, the budnik has magical and healing powers. The ashes of the budnik are scattered over fields, in vineyards, and meadows, to bring fertility.
Meat, usually pork, is consumed on Christmas Day when the doors are open for koledari (carolers) and for relatives to come and celebrate together. This is also the day when Dyado Koleda (Grandfather Christmas) brings gifts to children. Adults exchange gifts as well.
According to tradition, koledari are only young, unmarried men. They travel from home to home caroling about the birth of Christ. The caroling ritual is known as Koleduvane and it is believed to help protect against evil and bad luck. Carolers are rewarded with food like bread buns and pastries.
Many of the traditions described above are mainly preserved in rural homes, while people who live in large cities have a more relaxed celebration, similar with those observed in the West: Christmas balls, Christmas parties for children, and so on. But regardless how they celebrate, people open their hearts to God this season. Vesela Koleda!