Because the Bulgarian Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar, Christmas in Bulgaria is celebrated on December 25th. However, the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening of Christmas Eve. Here is what you get to know about the christmas celebration in Bulgaria.
This year will be our first Christmas in Bulgaria. We will join a Bulgarian family, who are our friends for enjoying this very special event. A very nice occasion to share with you what you have to know about how Bulgarian celebrate Christmas.
Season of Advent
Usually, the preparations for celebrating Christmas in Bulgaria start some 40 days earlier with the so-called season of Advent (a season observed in many Christian churches including the Orthodox).
Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Day
Although the real Christmas in Bulgaria is officially on December 25th, December 20th « Ignazhden » (the day on which Saint Ignatius is honored) is also a traditional holiday in Bulgarian culture. The reason is a legend which says that Mary started giving birth to Jesus on that day, but the labor lasted for four more days until Christmas Eve. Yet the birth wasn’t announced until the 25th.
The special dinner of the Christmas Eve
Here is why the evening of December 24th – Christmas Eve (« Budni Vecher » in Bulgarian) is also celebrated, usually with a family dinner. The meals that are served in that evening should be vegetarian. That’s why the Christmas eve menu includes beans soup, « sarmi » cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, and different kinds of pastries.
Furthermore, the meals have always to be an odd number – 7, 9, or 11, as well as the guests invited to the family dinner. Another essential element of the dinner is the Pitka – a special round bread that contains a coin in it. If you find the coin, you’re going to be extremely lucky for the next year! The oldest person cuts the bread and hands a peace to each of the family members present at the dinner. After the end of the dinner, the food is left on the table until the next morning. The reason is the belief of most Bulgarians that the spirits of their deceased ancestors might come to the house in the night to have something to eat.
Meat on Christmas Day
On Christmas Day, most families gather together again around the table for lunch or for dinner, but this time the menu includes meat. An important meal that day is banitsa a popular traditional Bulgarian type of borek which is prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs, natural yogurt, and pieces of feta cheese.
The traditional singing of the Koledari
Another interesting Christmas custom is the singing of the Koledari. These are groups of men dressed in traditional clothing known as “nossia” who come to the houses and carol sing at the doors in the evening of Christmas. The songs are usually performed twice as one part of the men sings the song once, and then the others sing it again. Finally, the Koledari are given food as a reward.
The Christmas tree
For Christmas, Bulgarians also decorate Christmas trees. They usually put the tree inside their homes and place Christmas presents under it. Yet Some Bulgarians still have a traditional Christmas block called ‘Budnik’ which is brought to the house on Christmas eve.
Santa is also here
Santa is also a part of the modern Christmas celebrations in Bulgaria. Here people call him ‘Dyado Koleda’ which means Grandfather Christmas and tell stories of their children about this good-hearted old fellow who comes in his slade and gives presents to the children but only to those who have been good throughout the year.
Many more stories could be told about Christmas in Bulgaria. But if you want to feel the unique atmosphere of this holiday and celebrate it like a real Bulgarian in front of a Christmas tree or Budnik eating pitka and sarmi, what you need to do is book a Christmas holiday in this lovely Balkan country as soon as possible. And if you happen to spend your next Christmas here don’t forget to wish to the locals you meet Vessela Koleda (Merry Christmas).
Enjoy your Christmas in Bulgaria !
Many thanks to Maria Hakki, a Bulgarian, who helped us to write this article.