Bulgaria Honors Midwife Day, Keeps Alive Purely Local Rites
With a variety of colorful rituals, Bulgaria marks the day of midwives on Monday, January 21, or the so-called Babin Den.
Midwife Day or in Bulgarian Babin Den, is a purely Bulgarian holiday. The name Babin Den comes from the Bulgarian word "baba", which means old woman or grandmother because in the past old women have been the village midwives, helping the younger ones to give birth. (Den means day in Bulgarian.)
Babin Den is a day to show respect and gratitude to those, who have helped women become mothers. The celebration has pagan roots, but has remained a significant holiday all through Bulgarian history, especially during the Bulgarian Renaissance.
On Babin Den, at dawn, mothers of toddlers and babies go to the village fountain to get fresh water. They take the water along with a bar of soap and a new towel to the midwife's house to do a rite washing of her hands. The women hand the midwife the soap, help her wash her hands and offer her the towel as a gift. The midwife wipes her hands in the young women's skirts so that they can bear many children and give birth easily.
The midwife also receives as gifts shirts and socks, which the mothers throw over her right shoulder. On her part, she gives the children she helped deliver a silver coin, socks and shirts. She also washes the children's faces with the water, which once being used by the midwife, is believed to have purifying powers.
It was further believed that in order for the delivery to go without problems, the midwife needed to light a float light, close all the windows and untie everything in the house that was tied. The delivery itself was kept secret from everyone with the exception of the midwife and the mother-in-law. The new mother was not allowed to get out of bed or to stay alone until the child was baptized.
In the evening, all midwives sit down to a generous table. Men are not allowed to join the festivities and hardly would anyone dare breach the rule.
Since 1951, Babin Den is an official holiday in Bulgaria, called the Day of the Delivery Assistance and honors not only midwives, but obstetricians and all doctors and medical personnel involved in the delivery of a baby.
The same festivities are traditionally organized in Bulgaria on January 8, which is the Gregorian calendar date for paying tribute to midwives.