BTA News

Christmas Celebrations Start in Bulgaria

Sunday is the first day of the traditional Christmas celebrations in Bulgaria. They begin on December 24, the last day of the 40-day Orthodox fast, when Bulgarians typically have Christmas Eve dinner with their family and relatives, and last until December 27, which is the feast day of St. Stephen.

Unlike other Christian Orthodox countries, Bulgaria does not celebrate Christmas on January 7, but on December 25, like most Western countries. Easter, however, is still observed on the Orthodox dates, not the Catholic ones.

On Christmas Eve Bulgarians eat only vegan dishes (just like during the fast), which have to be an odd number, usually 5, 7, 9 or 11. Traditional meals include beans, stuffed peppers with rice or beans, grape leaves stuffed with rise, pumpkin dishes and traditional Christmas bread. The bread, called “pitka”, usually contains a single coin or multiple fortunes, which reveal what the next year will hold for each member of the family. After midnight on Christmas Eve people break their fast and are allowed to eat meat and dairy again.

An important part of the tradition is that after diner the dishes are not put away, but are left on the table overnight. The traditional belief is that Virgin Mary visits homes during the night and feasts on what is left. Others say that the ones who visit are dead relatives or friends. The tradition is similar to the western custom of leaving cookies and milk out for Santa.

Christmas is also traditionally marked by a folk custom called koleduvane: between midnight and dawn on Christmas Eve, koledari (groups of men who are bachelors, engaged or recently married) call at all houses in the settlement to sing special Christmas songs, wishing the hosts health, happiness and a bountiful harvest, and are presented with expressly baked Christmas crullers, cash and various food items.

On Christmas Day Bulgarians typically visit friends and relatives and go to church. The Christmas holidays end with the Feast of St. Stephen which is celebrated on December 27. The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, which is why he is called “archdeacon”. He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty.