Bulgarian Folklore Calendar
The name January comes from the Latin word Januarius, i.e. ‘of Janus’ and is considered the month of god Janus. Old people say that the mythical hero and first king of Latium – Janus, offered a friendly welcome to the god of agriculture Saturn, who had been expelled from Heaven. In return Saturn taught the citizens of Latium how to cultivate their land and gave Janus the ability to see both the past and the future. This is why Janus is always depicted as a man with two faces – one that looks into the past and one that looks into the future.
Holiday: Surva (soo-rva)
Nameday: Vasil (St. Basil)
In the evening the entire family gathers round the table. The table is rich with multiple dishes with all types of food - everything that the family wants to have on their table throughout the year. The mother lights four grains of incense over the ploughshare and with circular motions from left to right she spreads the fumes around and over the table. She then spins three times the banitza before each member of the family can get their own piece. The pieces are special - each one contains a kismet, a little fortune in the form of cornel-tree buds branch, showing what your luck will be throughout the year, and of course the silver coin, representing the wealth that expects you.
Early in the morning the children go from house to sing holiday songs and to tap people on the back with their decorated cornel-tree twigs, or survachka (pictured). Their song can be translated as follows:
Surva, surva year, a merry prosperous year! Big wheat in the fields, red apples in the orchard, yellow corns on the cobs, large grapes on the vines, all hives full of honey, little chickens everywhere! May you be well and healthy this year and forever!
The concept of the survachka dates back many centuries and has to do with their decorations and ritual and mythical functions. According to the myth, the survachka is a special type of the Tree of the World and the boys who carry them are the mediators between our world and the one beyond. They have the ability to influence and spread future prosperity. The survachkas in Bulgaria are two types: cut and tied. While there is some difference between how they are shaped, both types are made of rich cornel-tree twigs decorated with colorful threads - cotton or wool. Other decorations include popcorn, dried fruits, chilies, seeds, raisins, colored papers, etc.
After the surva
ritual, in the afternoon or early evening, the
by young men disguised in a djamalo
(pictured), a type of big cape or a blanket. They
also wish health and fertility to the hosts of the
house during the coming year. The djamalo barer
pronounces a blessing: May there be joy and
prosperity everywhere where the djamalo sets foot!
May people be as strong as a mace! May children be
as many as the bees in a hive! The ritual then
continues with the djamalo dying symbolically so
that all evil can also die. Then it comes to life
again to represent the nature which wakes up and
gives prosperity to the people. In return for the
djamalo drivers' performance, the young men receive
food, money and treats.
The name Basil is of Greek origin and means regal. Other people who celebrate on the same day: Vasil, Vasilka, Veselin, Vasko, etc.
Nameday: Silvia (St. Sylvester)
The evening before Mukovden lads gather and pay a visit to the lasses' homes in order to show them that they are old enough to settle down. They go straight into the house's stables and clean out the trash. For this, they are rewarded by the owner of the house they visit. He leaves a full bag of food - sausages, bacon and a bottle of wine - hanging on a nail behind the front door. The lass (the young woman) of the house secretly puts in it a bunch of box shrub branches for the one she loves, tied up with a bright red thread and wrapped in a colorful cloth. This is a sign that she is waiting for matchmakers to come. If the host forgets to feed his guests, he will be surprised to find in the morning that the stables are overflowing with trash and cow dung brought over from the neighboring houses. His daughter will suffer even more - she will be the laughing stock at the horo (Bulgarian folk dance) and people will point at her saying that the boys have shoveled her stables. She will be deemed as stuck and it will be difficult for her to find a husband.
Silva means ‘forest’ – strength and freshness.
Tihomir means silent world. Tihon means happy. Silence is a gateway to sincereness, it takes things to a different level, making them worldly, impressive and regal.
Nameday: Jordan (St. Jordan, Epiphany)
This holiday is about water and its purifying, healing and magic powers. In the early morning, the priest of the village christens the water in a river and throws a wooden crest in it. The young men of the village jump into the ice cold waters to look for it. He who finds it first and brings it back to the priest is blessed for health and longevity and rewarded with gold coins.
At home, the women
prepare a ritual dinner. They burn some incense and
fumigate the table in order to mark the end of the
dirty days and to drive the evil away.
The name of the holiday comes after the name of the river Jordan. Other people who celebrate on this day: Bogomil (‘dear to God’), Bogdan (‘given by God’), Yonko, Yonka, Yoto, Yordan, Yordanka.
Ivanovden (St. John the Baptist)
The evening before this day, after the priest blesses the water, two or more men swear into eternal brotherhood to each other. They step in live coals, bare feet, believing that this will make them stronger and dear to each other. One of them, the sorcerer, gives everyone three sips from a goblet full of red wine, which symbolizes blood and connects them forever. They also break up three ritual breads while belted with a red girdle in order to link forever their families in a holy union. Then the newly established brotherhood is strengthened with three consecutive dances – chepnya, performed by the women, cher piper – performed by the men, and nyamsko horo – performed by all. The wives of the new brothers become sisters.
It is believed that on this day the water has exceptionally strong purifying powers, so all newly married and all children must bathe for health. Another important element of this holiday rituals are the nameday visits - people stop by without invitations to congratulate the celebrating.
The name Ivan comes from the Old Greek Joanes, which means ‘God’s blessing’ or ‘God helps’.
Holiday: Babinden (bah-bihn-den) (Midwives’ Day)
There is a folk song saying: Midwives’ day, my dear, Midwives’ day, Why is it not every day! Needless to say, this is one of the favorite holidays in Bulgaria. On this day women get up early so that their children are early risers too and prepare fresh bread for the table. The women who have given birth during the year expect their midwife to pay them a visit. The midwife visits every house in which she had helped in childbirth. She sits by the children, spins a threat of red wool and ties it on children’s right hands to give them health and to guard them against evil eyes. Then she washes the eyes of the children with fresh water, spreads butter and honey on their foreheads, sticks a fiber of red wool and says blessings. Then the young mother helps the midwife wash her hands, which she then dries in the mother’s skirt so that she can give birth to her next child easily. Every mother presents a silver coin and a tuft of wool to the midwife. The women who have given birth for the first time bake a loaf of bread with a hole in the middle through which they pass a linen shirt, an apron and multi-colored woolen socks and give it to the midwife.
The true festivities begin at noon when all women in the village, enter the house of the midwife with laughter and songs. The midwife fumigates the table with some incense and says a blessing: May those who have given birth this year repeat it next year. May the full become empty and the empty become full. The women inhale the healing smoke believing that it will help them become pregnant and give birth with ease. The midwife break up the bread and gives each woman a piece by which they guess the sex of their next child - crust for a boy and crumb for a girl. Then they spend the rest of the day singing, laughing and ritual bathing of the midwife.
Men are not allowed to attend the party and they may not scold their wives for going to it because that will make all women angry. They don't want to do that because the punishment for this is getting a full pants of stones.
Tania means ‘she who arranges’ in Latin.
Nameday: Anton (St. Anthony)
People celebrate this day by not going to work They believe that will protect them against the plague. Young brides get up at dawn and bake breads called chumini (pertaining to the plague). They spread honey on them and give them to the neighbors so they and their animals are healthy. They also avoid cooking beans, lentils, corn, as well as sewing or knitting in order to keep the plague away.
Other people who celebrate on this day: Anton, Antonia, Doncho, Donka, all derived from the Latin Antonius meaning ‘priceless’.
(a-tan-as-off-den) (St. Athanasius’ Day)
Nameday: Atanas, Atanaska, Nasko, Naska
A legend from Thrace says that on St. Athanasius’ Day winter is going away because the saint puts on his silk shirt, climbs up a high hill and cries: “Go away, Winter, let Summer come!” On this day, at dawn, people pick snowdrops and hellebore and the sun, on seeing the people, gives them health and longevity. Ritual bread is baked in every house and is covered with honey. A black hen is slaughtered and offered to the plague so that people and animals do not die. The feathers are kept by the housewife for protecting the children from bad luck and strange diseases. Bulgarians in Bessarabia pay homage to Saint Tanas as a patron of blacksmiths. In pagan mythology he is the heavenly blacksmith- sun, who puts his bare hands into the burning furnace and takes out the red-hot iron. The name Atanas comes from the Old Greek Athanasios, meaning ‘immortal’.
The name Evtim comes from the Sanskrit 'en' which means endless, all-embracing god. It also means kind in nature.
The name Grigor means ‘be alert, stay awake’.
Holiday: Sredzimie (sred-zih-mee-eh) (Midwinter)
This holiday is a remnant of the oldest Indo-European New Year. In Bulgaria, on this day celbrate shepherds, cow herders, pig herders and horse-keepers. People gather brustina (dry leaves of elm-tree) to feed the sheep.