Enhancing social and economic activity of third country immigrants from the territory of South East Reagion in Bulgaria
BG EIF 2011/01-02.01
The project is funded by The European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals financed by the European Union

Bulgarian customs:
This module is an introduction to the unique Bulgarian ways of god worship, the honoring of the national heroes, martyrs, and generally the way Bulgarians celebrate holidays and have fun. 
KOLEDA, CHRISTMAS – 25th December
Christmas follows after the celebration of Christmas Eve, which is the last day of Lent. Christmas starts at midnight with the custom of Koleduvane. People believe that on Christmas the sky opens up and everything is shining. This can only be seen by the righteous. On Christmas people make wishes because whatever they want will come true. In Bulgaria, Christmas is called Koleda, Bojik or Bojich. This is one of the most important religious holidays not only in Bulgaria but also in the whole Christian world. On Christmas the Christians celebrate the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ. According to the Gospel of Luka this happened in Bethlehem, in the province of Judea. For the Orthodox Christians the Birth of Christ is as grand a celebration as that of Easter. For the Catholics and Protestants Christmas is the most revered holiday.

St. George the Martyr is loved and venerated both by Christians and Muslims. He was the son of wealthy Christian parents, who became a passionate follower of the Christian faith. This is why he was subjected to brutal torture and was beheaded in 288. Georgi became a model of the ideal Christian warrior, saint, and the patron of war and the army. In folk tales and legends St. George is represented as the horse rider who defeated the dragon and saved the girl who was to be sacrificed. The girl's father was the king of a pagan people who, after the victory of St. George adopted the Christian religion. Because of this legend, St. George is always portrayed riding a white horse and killing the dragon.
The preparations for the festival begin on the previous day. Girls pick flowers and make wreaths for the sacrificial lamb which will be slaughtered. Women prepare the ritual loaves of bread, the largest of which is dedicated to St. George. All gather at the table to eat the prepared meals, to rejoice and sing songs. St. George’s day is one of the greatest Bulgarian holidays, which is revered by all because it marks the coming of summer. It is always celebrated on 6th May, the day of the Christian Saint George who is the patron of shepherds and flocks. The Bulgarians associate the cult of the saint with their hope for a rich and happy life.
On St. George’s day people slaughter lambs as a sacrifice to the patron saint. In the villages people lay a large table in the churchyard for all the villagers. People bring other ritual types of food – a special round bread, boiled mutton soup and boiled wheat.

This festival marks the end of agricultural work – harvesting, field work, and autumn sowing. The day of St. Dimetrius marks the beginning of winter, People say "George brings the summer, Dimitrius – the winter."  It is believed that Demetrius was St. George’s and Archangel Michael’s brother.

BABA MARTA – 1st March 
According to popular beliefs, this day marks the beginning of spring. Before this holiday women twist together white and red threads to make “martenitzas” which they give to every member of the family, to relatives and friends.  “Martenitzas” protect people from the evil eye and diseases. People wear them until they see the first stork and then they take them off and hang them on blossoming trees.
In old times the “martenitza” was accepted as a ritual sign – an amulet that protected people from evil spirits. Today, people do not perceive it in this way and the tradition symbolizes only the coming of spring. But even today the Bulgarians believe that if they wear their “martenitzas” in March, they will be healthy throughout the year. “Martenitzas” are also tied to domestic animals, fruit trees, and on the door handles. People wear “martenitzas” on their wrists, around the neck like a necklace or pinned on their clothes.

There is no better way to start getting to know the customs of a country than getting to know how its people see in the New Year. As everywhere else in the world, in Bulgaria New Year’s Eve is celebrated with the hope for a happy life, good health and success, and with the expectation that everybody’s dreams will come true. On New Year’s Eve the whole family, relatives and friends get together. The holiday table is lavish. The dishes that are usually prepared are pork with sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage and vine leaves, pork chops, roast turkey or a big rooster stuffed with giblets, rice and spices. People also cook “kavarma” – pork stew with leek. The hostess makes the ritual bread and “banitza” (cheese pie) with cornel buds, “fortunes” and a silver coin wrapped inside. A lot of people also make baklava (sweet pie with walnuts and cinnamon) and “banitza” with pumpkin and walnuts. There should be plenty of fresh fruit and nuts, wine, “rakia” (grape or plum brandy) and other drinks. After midnight, when they play the national anthem on TV, people raise a toast with champagne and wish each other good health and fulfilled dreams. At the start of the New Year the hostess rotates the “banitza” and everybody takes the piece which happens to be front of them. The “fortune” that they get with their piece will be with them throughout the year. Then comes the time to exchange presents which traditionally are put under the Christmas tree. Usually children are the most impatient to get their presents. But they can get them after they “survakat” (another Bulgarian tradition) their parents and grandparents.
“Survakane” is a common tradition on the first day of the New Year. The “survakari” (children with cornel twigs decorated with popcorn, red thread, coins or little bells) say the New Year blessing. In smaller towns and especially in the villages, they go from house to house and tap on the back neighbors, relatives and friends and say the blessing: “Surva Surva, merry year! Green wheat in the fields, a large cluster of grapes in the vineyard, yellow corn cob in the fields, a red apple in the orchard, a house full of silk. May you be healthy till next year!” 

This is one of the most important family holidays in Bulgaria. December 24th marks the start of the Christmas holidays which continue for three days. The Christmas Eve table is festive and tradition requires that only vegetarian dishes are served. When the ritual bread is broken, the first piece is left for Mary and the deceased relatives, the second for the house, and the next are distributed among the members of the family starting with the oldest one. The table is not cleared all night. When midnight comes, it means that Christmas has come. The forty-day Lent which begins on 15th November ends on Christmas Eve. This beautiful family celebration is dedicated to both the home and the deceased relatives. It is connected with a lot of hope for a better future. The celebration of Christmas Eve precedes Christmas. According to the legend, Virgin Mary went into labour on Ignajden (St. Ignatius' Day) (20th December) and on Christmas Eve gave birth to the young God, but she did not share the news until the next day. This night is very different from all other holidays because the Bulgarians have preserved the rich old Bulgarian traditions.
The whole family participates in the preparation of the dinner and there is a lot of joy in people’s homes. It is believed the life of the family throughout the year will resemble the kind of Christmas Eve people have had.  The generosity of the Bulgarian land and the hope for a fruitful and successful year are reflected in the abundance of food on the table. People prepare an odd number of vegetarian dishes – beans, peppers stuffed with beans or rice, vine leaves stuffed with rice, lentils, pumpkin, boiled wheat, corn, etc. Walnuts, honey, fruit, onions and garlic, salt and pepper, dried fruit, wine and brandy are also put on the table. There is a particular respect for bread. For Christmas Eve people make a round bread in which they hide a coin for good luck. The bread is placed in the center of the table. There is a candle on it which is lit when everybody sits at the table.
The “koledari” start their rounds after midnight. They are only men, mainly bachelors, fiancés and seldom – young, recently married men. Wearing their Sunday best, they visit people’s homes and they must always go east. In every home they sing songs to the hosts and say they good wishes. The host treats the young men to wine and brandy, and then gives them money, flour, meat, beans, wine, etc. When the “koledari” get back home, it is a sign that Christmas Eve has passed and Christmas, the Birth of Christ, has come. 

Saint Nicholas is one of the most celebrated saints in Bulgaria. There are many churches and monasteries named after him. Saint Nicholas is believed to help all the sailors and fishermen. According to the Christian myths, Saint Nicholas can make the winds rage and cease. Saint Nicholas can walk on water and save ships in trouble at sea. He protects people against floods and drowning. He is the patron not only of sailors and fishermen but also of people who are named after him and of all families. The Bulgarian sailors keep icons of St. Nicholas on board their ships seeking protection from storms.
According to the legend, St Nicholas helped a poor man with three daughters. He gave him bags of gold coins to help him marry them. Since then he is revered as the patron of property and money.
St. Nicholas was famous for the wonders he worked during his lifetime. He continued to work wonders after his death, and this is why he is called the Wonderworker.
The Bulgarians revere him tremendously. December 6 is the day of his submission to God and is part of the winter celebration ritual cycle. This day is known as St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas Day, or else Fish St. Nikola. This name comes from the obligatory dish on the festive table – stuffed carp or “ribnik”.
6th December falls during the Christmas Lent when Orthodox Christians do not eat food of animal origin. Exceptions are made only for a few major religious holidays, including St. Nicholas Day. The carp is stuffed with bulgur or rice, raisins and walnuts and is roasted. In some parts of the country people make “ribnik”. It is carp wrapped in dough and decorated as ritual bread. On this festival  people are allowed to have red wine. The entire family sits at the table.


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