Bulgarian Family Celebrations Mark End of Lent
Christmas Eve marks one of the brightest of the Christian holidays for Bulgarians. It is a day devoted to home, hearth and family, including remembrance of the deceased of the family.
Known as "Little Christmas", the holiday anticipates the celebration of the Birth of Christ, and there are many rituals associated with its observance.
Practices may vary across the country, but there are some basic traditions observed throughout Bulgaria.
The numbers attending the celebratory evening meal have to be uneven in number, with at least seven people present. The food is Lenten, marking the end of the 40-day Lent fast. Therefore there is no meat on the table of the strict traditionalists.
The number of dishes is also uneven. Favorites include stuffed peppers, rice wrapped in leaves, beans, lentils, pumpkin and dried fruit. The more dishes there are on the table, the richer should the following year be.
Bread plays a central part in the meal. The head of the family breaks the freshly-prepared loaf after uttering a prayer. The first piece is placed to the left of a religious icon in the room; the second is for the house; and the reminder is shared by all present. The person who finds a coin buried in the dough is regarded as especially lucky throughout the coming year.
No-one should leave the table during the meal and, when it is finished, the dishes remain there – they are not cleared up. It is believed that the deceased later come to enjoy the remainder of the meal.
Strict tradition demanded that a fire be built in the hearth, with enough wood to burn all night and into Christmas Day, to help with the new birth of the sun.
Nowadays, Christmas tree with lighted candles symbolize this ritual. The main colors of all decorations are red, yellow and gold - the colors of sun and fire, and lit candles are like the sparks from the burning Yule log.
At midnight, carol singers may begin their rounds, calling at neighbors' houses, or the family may attend a midnight mass, bearing candles, ushering in Christmas Day.