Bulgarian Roma Prepare for New Year's Eve
All Roma groups in Bulgaria are preparing to celebrate on January 14 the Roma New Year also known as Vassilitsa, the Day of Vassil (Basil) or Bango Vassili (the Lame Basil).
About 50 000 Roma from the Stolipinovo district in the city of Plovdiv, the largest Roma quarter in Bulgaria, will meet New Year's Eve Thursday night.
New Year's Day will see many festivities, organized by the Roma Foundation.
14 Roma girls, between the ages of 13 and 18, will compete for the Roma Beauty Crown "Miss Chay Chukarie." The contest will include Roma dances and a knowledge and education test, the Foundation announces. In addition to the crown, the winner will receive a monetary award.
There will be a lottery drawing with a life-10 kg rooster as the top prize. According to Roma beliefs, the person taking the rooster home will have health and money all year long.
Traditional food will be offered for free to those attending the celebrations.
The Foundation informs Plovdiv Roma have been affected by the economic crisis as well – many are unemployed or on welfare, while those working have menial jobs and a family income of BGN 300 a month. The crisis has also led to fewer births and young Roma families now have one to two children.
The celebrations have their origins in several Roma legends. In one of them Bango Vassili is a guardian and defender of the Roma and rebuilds the bridge used by them after it has been destroyed by the Devil. In others, he is a lame shepherd rescuing a drowning Roma child or giving shelter to a Roma trying to escape his enemies.
Another legend tells that St. Basil had saved all Roma from drowning in a stormy sea by sending them a flock of geese. The Roma climbed on them and were able to reach a safe shore. Since then they honor their Savior on January 14 and call the holiday Vassilitsa.
Bango Vassili is a family celebration and poultry on the table is a must. It also includes stuffed cabbages, bread, wine and homemade brandy known as rakia. In all Roma groups the dinner on the eve of January 14 is of prime importance and includes rich symbolic. The meal is blessed and all are given forgiveness by kissing the hand of the person they might have offended.
All houses where Bango Vassili is celebrated are to remain locked until midnight on January 13 to prevent luck from escaping. Only after the arrival of the New Year and the Day of St. Basil, the Roma begin accepting guests, hoping the first visitor to be a good person, who will bring them luck.
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