Bulgarians Gather for Christmas Eve Supper

Society | December 24, 2002, Tuesday // 00:00

Christmas Eve is one of the oldest family holiday, also called Malka koleda /Little Christmas/, which follows a forty-day Advent, starting on 15 November. Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of God began her labours on St. Ignatius' Day and gave birth to God's son on Christmas Eve, but that she told of it only on the next day. The Christmas Eve feast should be plentiful and the dishes - vegetable and odd in number. Traditionally, wheat is boiled and dishes like boiled haricot, leaves stuffed with rice or grouts, and stewed dried fruit are cooked. The Christmas fare provided at table includes also garlic, walnuts, honey, onion, summer fruit kept fresh, wine, brandy - everything that has been produced during the past year - fresh or processed. Wheat grains and the Ignazhden ring-shaped cake are also put on the table. In some places in Western Bulgaria, in the neighbourhood of Teteven, in the Plovdiv district, as well as in the Macedonian region unleavened bread with a silver coin in it is baked.

Only family members attend the Christmas Eve supper and it is believed that incensation drives the evil spirits away. In the past the eldest man or woman incensed first the table and then all the other premises in the house, as well as the courtyard and the cattle-shed. People are not supposed to leave the table before finishing their meal. The table is not cleared for the night because people believed that the deceased would come to supper. The Christmas tree today replaces the yule-log /badnyak/, a three-year old timber, specially picked up. The tree is a symbol of the fire that burned all night long to help the birth of the new sun, the new God, to endow him with energy and light. Sunny colors - red, gold and yellow - predominate in the tree decoration, while the lighted candles resemble the sparkles of the yule-log. The day was declared an official holiday by the 36th National Assembly on December 10, 1991.

Bulgarian orthodox Christians constitute 82.6% of the country's population. They celebrate Christmas on December 25 together with most Christians but unlike the orthodox believers in Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia and Serbia. Only four of all nineteen local orthodox churches - namely those in Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia and Serbia, use the old Julian calendar that fixes Christmas on January 7. Bulgaria's Orthodox Church turned to the reformed Julian calendar on December 20, 1968. Since then, Bulgaria has celebrated Christmas for three days starting on December 25 as the most of the Christian world. However, "orthodox" Easter rarely coincides with catholic and protestant celebrations. Priests master a special "science" taught in orthodox academies so that they can calculate the Easter date that is different every year and is honored by all nineteen orthodox churches.

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