Bulgarian Folk Tradition: Festivals


According to ethnographers, the overall number of Bulgarian festive rites  exceeds 11,000 – a plentitude of customs accompanying Bulgarian people's lives from the cradle to the grave.

The most colourful set of winter calendar customs is that of New Year's celebration. 
From time immemorial, the fireplace and the table spread have been symbols of generosity and abundance. The richer the spread, the more fruitful the coming year is expected to be. This is why all kinds of food produced by the peasants was placed on the table. The ritual bread was decorated with symbolic representations of vines and hives. A special place was devoted to the banitza (a typical Bulgarian cheese pastry) with baked-in cornel buds symbolizing the home, the family and the livestock, promising good health and well-being. 

Banitza: Sheet-spreading

The honour of kindling the fire fell on the eldest person in the family. From early dawn,  the fireplace, swept up with a juniper broom, awaited the yule-log - an oak log was commonly used because of its longevity. It was lit at dusk and its burning throughout the night was a promise of prosperity and fertility. Many rituals and wishes for affluence were elements of that night. 
But it was the impatiently awaited 



(men going from house to house wishing everybody a Happy New Year) who had to say the magic words. Long after midnight, they set out on their merry round. They would tap everybody on the back with decorated cornel twigs while wishing health, longevity and success. The cornel twig, or sourvachka was their indispensable attribute; its decoration varied from region to region.

Making sourvachkas

(Christmas Carol Singing)

It is a custom observed nation-wide, one sharing many common features with the sourvakane. The koledari (waits) would go from house to house singing carols and wishing health and prosperity to the family. They were given fruits, little rolls of bread and other food specially prepared to the occasion. The koledari's dress and costume ornaments differed from region to region. The waits carried koledarkas /instead of sourvachkas/ -  richly carved long oak sticks. This custom is characterized by an extremely colourful rituality involving songs, blessings, and dances. The koledari performed on Christmas Eve, while sourvakari  were part of  News Year's celebration. Having to do with the Julian and the Gregorian calendar, both customs have preserved their original vitality and are related in meaning (anticipation of fertility).


(Singing to Rings)

This is another New Year's custom, expressing young girls' eagerness to get married and enjoy a happy family life. Ladouvane (or koumichene)  is a maidens' rite performed on the day before New Year only in Western Bulgaria, the Central Balkan Range and in some regions along the Danube River. In the rest of the country, it is celebrated on Midsummer Day. Preparations would start early in the morning. All lasses in the village would drop their rings, as well as oats and barley, the symbols of fertility, into a caldron full of spring water, all the rings fastened with a red thread to a bunch of perennial plants, such as ivy, crane's bill, or basil. The cauldron was left overnight in the open, under the stars, and on New Year's Eve, following a ritual dance around it, the girls' fortunes were told.



VASSILYOVDEN  (St. Basil's Day)

Vassilyovden is observed on 1 January. On the first day of the New Year children would go round the neighbourhood to wish with their songs every household member good health and a plentiful New Year. Upon the ritual singing, the children are offered fruits and cakes. It is a common practice for relatives and friends to visit one another to greet their families for the New Year.

Celebrating their name day are those whose name is one of the following: Vassil, Vassilka, Vesselin, Vessela, Vesselina.


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan's Day) /  VODITSI (Epiphany)



IVANOVDEN (St John's Day)


BABINDEN (Midwife's Day)


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