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Christmas Traditions and Rituals in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a predominantly Christian Orthodox country. It is therefore not surprising that Christmas in Bulgaria is arguably the most popular religious holiday. After all, this is the time when the entire family comes together.

Although Christmas is probably the most universal Christian holiday in the world, every country, culture, and people have their own understandings and traditions when it comes to festivities. Bulgaria is no different and if you are curious to know

HOW WE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS IN BULGARIA

just keep on reading.

Christmas festivities and celebrations in Bulgaria begin on December 24th – Christmas Eve. For Bulgarians, this is the most important celebration out of the three days of Christmas. It is characterized by rich traditions and intricate rituals.

BULGARIAN CHRISTMAS DINNER TABLE

Photo credit: Ladislav Tsvetkov

There are strict rules when it comes to the Christmas Eve dinner table, which we call sofra. If you want to go full-on traditional, you have to prepare the sofra on the floor. We begin by placing some straw under the tablecloth and arranging blankets to be seated around. The idea is to reenact Mary and Joseph’s experience of a cozy and simple dinner.

Bear in mind that Christmas Eve is the last of the 40 days of the Great Fast. Therefore, the main ritual food on this holiday is lenten or in other words, it is basically vegan, with no animal source foods. There may be only an odd number of dishes on the dinner table. Those could include bean stew; sarma – this is a dish of vine or cabbage leaves rolled around a filling of rice; dried paprika with vegetable or rice filling; boiled wheat, oshav – a traditional dessert of stewed dried fruit such as prunes, apples, and pears; a lean pumpkin pie; and baklava. We also place shelled walnuts and honey on the sofra. However, the star of the night is a lenten homemade bread.

BULGARIAN CHRISTMAS FESTIVE BREAD

In the evening, when the whole family comes together, the oldest member of the household censes the entire home and dinner. Then the head of the family breaks the festive bread. The first piece is left aside for the Holy Virgin. The rest is divided between family members, starting with the oldest and finishing with the youngest.

Now comes the most fun and exciting part of this tradition. You see, when working the dough, the matron places a coin within and then puts the bread in the oven. Whoever finds this coin in their piece of bread will have the most success and money over the coming year. Basically, everything else on the table becomes secondary and everyone starts tearing their chunks of festive bread apart, looking for said coin.

The festive table is left without being cleared until Christmas morning.

BULGARIAN CHRISTMAS SUPERSTITIONS

Like most everywhere else in the world, Bulgarian Christmas traditions are full of superstition. We already mentioned the one linked to finding the Christmas coin. Here are some more:

  • Whoever gets up from the table during dinner time, will suffer back pains all year long. That is why it is important to double check everything is set, before you sit down to celebrate.
  • Every family member has to crack and shell a walnut. The quality of the nut inside tells you how healthy you will be throughout the coming year.
  • Young women, who wish to start their own family, place a piece of festive bread under their pillow. They interpret their dreams of that night to learn what their future husband would be like.
  • According to folk beliefs, demons and goblins appear on Christmas Eve and roam until January 6-jährigen – Epiphany. That’s why you put a clove of garlic in your pocket to chase away evil spirits. Might be smelly, but old people swear by it … and keep in mind, Bulgaria is neighbors with Romania where the legend of Dracula originates from, so better be safe than sorry 😉

This is all we have time for today and hope you enjoyed this crash course in Bulgarian Christmas traditions. Make sure to check in every so often to learn more about Bulgarian culture and traditions from our Travel Guides or kontaktieren, if you have any questions.

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