Bulgarians celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December
Bulgarians are mainly Eastern Orthodox, but they follow the Gregorian calendar and celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. Other Eastern Orthodox countries like Russia or Serbia for example, celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.
The Day of Saint Ignatius
Bulgarians believe that Mary was in labor for four days before Christ was born, which is why December 20 is celebrated as the Day of Saint Ignatius (Ignazhden). The day is associated with many beliefs and superstitions, such as the attitude of the first person to visit your home will predict the coming year.
Christmas follows the last day of the fasts
On Christmas Eve (Dec 24th) Bulgarians eat only vegetarian dishes and they have to be an odd number (5, 7, 9 or 11). Delicious things like stuffed peppers with rice or beans, grape leaves stuffed with rice (sarmi) , pumpkin dishes and traditional bread (pitka) are prepared. The bread usually contains fortunes, which will reveal what the next year holds for each member of the family. The food stays on the table during the whole Christmas night.
Koleduvane is a ritual, which happens at midnight on the 24th of December. Only young and single men are allowed to take part in koleduvane. They gather in the house of the man leading the group all dressed up in special clothes. Once they are all together they start going from house to house singing Christmas carols and wishing all families good health and prosperity in the new year. Everyone welcomes the Koledari in their homes and gives them small home-made pretzels (gevrecheta), meat, wine or money.
A New Year Eve tradition: Survakane
A tradition rooted in antiquity, survakane is basically children (lightly) beating adults on the back with elaborately decorated sticks! The stick, named survachka is always made of a cornel branch adorned with yarn, wool, dried fruit, beads and other small items. Along with the beating, the children recite their wishes for good luck and prosperity in the new year. At the end, the kids receive some money for their “service”. The custom takes place on New Year’s Day (1 January) each year, a holiday the Bulgarians once called Survaki.