Christmas is a favourite holiday of young and old. There is a tradition that makes the Bulgarian Christmas even more special.
It is one of the brightest and most awaited holidays in the Bulgarian calendar, celebrated with century – old traditions. Although many of the Christmas rituals have been forgotten by the contemporary Bulgarian, one has been preserved – the tradition to celebrate with the family.
At Christmas every Bulgarian family gathers to spend a holy, but not a very silent night! The atmosphere is cheerful, the food is delicious, the spirits are high. Being with loved ones is the most important component of the Bulgarian Christmas!
Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox, and Christmas celebrations start at 20th December, the day on which St. Ignatius of Antioch is honored (Ignazhden). Ignazhden begins the preparation for one of the most important rituals in the Christmas night – Koleduvane.
As Christmas Eve comes to an end and the clock strikes 00:00, an old Bulgarian tradition takes place. A group of men, dressed in national costumes, visit every house in their town or village and sing Bulgarian Christmas carols. They wear traditional furry caps and carry colorful cudgels. These men are called Koledari and the ritual is known as Koleduvane.
The essence of the tradition is to keep the bad spirits and the supernatural forces away during the Christmas night. The hosts of the houses visited express their gratitude by giving the koledari ring – shaped buns, as well as meat, flour, beans, and even money. The ritual lasts until sunrise on Christmas morning.
You can see what Koleduvane looks like here:
On Christmas morning every member of the Bulgarian family wakes up early. They start prepareing traditional Bulgarian dishes for the Christmas table such as banitza (with cheese or with leeks), chicken or pork steaks, round loaf, or pumpkin pastry. As the Advent fast is over, meat, eggs, and dairy products can be included in the menu for the first time in 40 days. The feast is spectacular! In the past, Bulgarians used to roast a whole pig. Today, more and more families prepare stuffed turkey or chicken. Sauerkraut, beans, stuffed peppers with rice and minced meat are part of the Christmas table too.
Children are even in a bigger hurry, racing towards the Christmas tree to find what presents Santa Claus has left there. In many Bulgarian families, the white-bearded man has already come the night before. Despite the different interpretations of the tradition, for every Bulgarian child Christmas means staying in pyjamas until noon, playing with new toys and watching their favorite Christmas movies for a hundredth time.
The celebration of Christmas doesn’t end for another two days. The official ending of the feast is on 27th of December, St. Stephen’s Day (Stefanovden). Yet, the holiday spirit is far from leaving, after all “Christmas is not a date, it is a state of mind” (Mary Ellen Chase)!