How Bulgarians Celebrate Christmas Eve - Customs and Traditions
We are celebrating Christmas Eve today! This is the day before the Nativity. According to the biblical prophecy, on Christmas Eve the labor pains of the Virgin Mary, which began on Ignazhden (20 December), ended. The holiday is dedicated to home and the family reunites for dinner to wait together for the birth of the Son of God. On Christmas Eve, the 40-day Christmas fasting ends.
Traditionally on this evening, dishes on the table must necessarily be lean and be an odd number – seven, as many as the days of the week, or nine, as long as women's pregnancy lasts. There are regions in Bulgaria where 11 or 12 dishes are placed on the festive table - as are the months of the year. These are usually sarmas (rolls made of sauerkraut or vine leaves stuffed with rice) , boiled wheat, stuffed peppers, honey, pie with pumpkin, oshav (sweet boiled dry fruit), wine, etc. Each of the dishes on the table is an important symbol for Bulgarians.
There are three types of ritual Christmas breads - dedicated to Christmas, to rural crafts and to carol singers. Women sing special songs while kneading these breads. At dinner, the hostess of the house says a prayer, and then breaks the bread with a silver coin inside. It is believed that whoever finds the coin in bread will be lucky throughout the next year.
In some regions of the country, a dogwood twig is put inside the bread for health. The first piece is left for the Virgin Mary in front of the home icon. According to custom, no one should leave the table before the dinner is finished.Moreover, the plates are not cleared after dinner, so that luck does not escape. It is believed that the family’s deceased then come to eat and see that they are not forgotten.
Before family sits at the table the dinner must necessarily be thurified. It is a custom in which the oldest man or woman in the family burns incense over the table. Then the owner goes around all the other rooms in the house with incense. Eventually he goes outside and walks through the yard and barn. According to popular belief, the ritual of thurifying drives evil forces out of the house.
The festive atmosphere of Christmas Eve spills over into the Christmas night. Carol singers go from house to house and bless their owners. They walk around the homes in groups, always starting from the east. In each home they perform songs for the glorification of the owners and wish them health and prosperity.
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