Celebrating Lazarus Saturday: Bulgarian Customs and Spiritual Heritage

Society » CULTURE | Author: Diana Kavardzhikova |April 27, 2024, Saturday // 07:41
Bulgaria: Celebrating Lazarus Saturday: Bulgarian Customs and Spiritual Heritage

Lazarus Saturday is a Christian holiday dedicated to Lazarus of Bethany and his miraculous resurrection by Jesus Christ and celebrated on the Saturday before the feast of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Traditionally, green willow branches are broken off on Lazarus Day to adorn the doors on the following day, Palm Sunday. According to the New Testament, Lazarus is a disciple of Christ and the brother of Martha and Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus brings out of the grave and brings back to life. God says "Lazarus, come out!", and revives Lazarus, who comes out of his tomb. According to tradition, Lazarus lives another 30 years and dies as the bishop of the city. Lazarus died in the last 30 years on the island of Cyprus. The saint's very name is a symbol of health and longevity.

The feast is also known by the names Lazarnitsa, Lazarus, Lazarus Saturday, or Lazarus Day and is celebrated in honor of the fields, pastures, and woods, as St. Lazarus is the lord of the forestsand leaves, who clears the land with his axe so that people can sow their fields.

On this day, the custom of ‘Lazaruvane’ and the memorial rites (honoring the memory of the deceased) are performed. According to beliefs in Northeastern Bulgaria, on Vrabnitsa they "let the dead go" from the graves. To pay their respects, the Lazarus All Souls day is held. On the eve of Lazarus Day, women go to the cemetery, burn incense, pour over wine the graves of their loved ones, and distribute for their souls traditional bread (рангелов кравай)and wheat. On the same evening or Lazarus Day, each housewife distributes in the village ‘prosfori’(small loaves of leavened bread used in Orthodox and Catholic liturgies) according to the number of the deceased, but always an odd number.

The main traditional custom on Lazarus Day is the ‘Lazaruvane’. It involves young unmarried women, called ‘lazarki’ - maidens who are entering girlhood. The belief is that if a girl doesn't participate in Lazarus Saturday customs, she cannot get married like the others and therefore later in life. Every girl can be a Lazarus Sunday participant only once in her lifetime.

Preparations for Lazarus Saturday begin in the middle of Lent when young girls (lazarki) begin to gather and learn with older women the specific Lazarus songs. ‘Lazaruvane’ itself has similarities with ‘caroling’ - the girls go around the houses in the village, singing ritual Lazarus songs and blessing for health, happiness, and prosperity, dressing in traditional clothes. In the larger villages, the girls are divided into several groups of 10-20, and each group will walk around a certain area on the feast day so that no two girls (lazarki) come to the same place.

Two of the girls carry baskets in which they collect the white eggs that the hosts give them, and the other two take on male roles by carrying crimps - normally an attribute of men only. When they enter someone's courtyard, they hold up the crooks - usually an attribute only associated with men, and the others surround them in a circle. Four of the youung girls perform ritual dances, while the others sing Lazarus songs. These are extremely varied and differ from place to place, but in general, the tradition everywhere is to have songs that are specifically named for each family member (maiden, young man, child, etc.) as well as for each social position (teacher, cleric, bey, etc.). Lazarus songs are sung even to a chance traveler who met on the road. These young girls learn from those who have been ‘lazarki’ the previous years.

In the courtyard of each house, the girls begin with a song dedicated to the home and household, which also differ according to the wealth and social status of the owners. First, they sang for the owner of the house, and then for everyone else. The most numerous and varied were the songs about the maid in the house. In content, they are almost always love songs. For this reason, there are songs dedicated even to the garden of the house, which has been inseparably linked to the maidenly excitement of the girl, with her feelings and longings. A special ritual song is sung to the most personal maiden in the whole village, during which all the girls join in the dance. At the end of the day, the girls separate, arranging where to gather for the Palm Sunday rites.

The celebration fills everyone with a spring mood. It was believed that the words spoken on this day had magical power. Words help maidens become women and also help spring replace winter. There is a folk belief that a maiden who has participated in Lazarus customs cannot be kidnapped by a dragon. In Eastern Thrace, the legend of the Bride of the Dragon was widespread. It tells of a maiden who was going with her parents to a festival in a neighboring village, but on the way there became thirsty and stopped to drink water at a well, despite her father's warning that the place was "bad". Then a dragon came and offered her to join him, promising her untold riches. The maiden was frightened, and caught up with her mother and father, telling them nothing of what had happened. After the council was over, she yielded to temptation and joined the dragon. After a while, however, she grew homesick for her relatives and asked him to let her go see them. He let her go in the same place and at the same time of year, but unfortunately, while she was living with him, the Dragon's bride had grown a tail. When she heard the songs of the maidens, she began with terror to try to get rid of it, but without success. Out of despair that her friends would see her like this, bloody foam appeared on her lips and her heart burst with fear. They buried her beside the well, and every year at the same spot they played a dance in her memory, but unconcluded. They called the dance ‘buenek’ and the girls who performed it ‘lazarki’.

Traditionally, on Lazarus Saturday, green willow branches are cut off and placed on the next day - Vrabnitsa (Palm Sunday) to decorate the doors.

Lazar, Lazo, Lazarina, Lalka, Lalko, Lalo, Lalio, Lalyu, Lachezar, and Lachezara celebrate their name day.


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Tags: Bulgaria, Lazarus Saturday, folklore, tradition

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