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Christmas and, in particular, Christmas Eve is the biggest winter holiday in the Bulgarian tradition. Not one and two are the customs associated with celebrating that day. Some continue to be respected, others have long been forgotten. In them were mostly woven magical symbols associated with the people’s great desire for their harvest to survive. It’s good to remember the traditions and know where they came from. So let’s now trace the roots of Christmas ritual magic on our lands.

How long is Christmas celebrated

The tradition is very ancient. Celebrations dedicated to the birth sun are found in many peoples even before Christianity. They are centered around the days of the winter solstice (22nd, 23rd and 24th December). Until then, the day is decreasing and the night is growing. After the longest night, the day begins to grow, the sun is born again. The Christian religion very well understands that this is a key point. And for this reason, he decides that then will be the great Christian feast associated with the birth of the young God – Christ.

Preparing for Christmas Eve

The preparations for this evening started in Bulgaria from the morning of December 24th. Everyone in the family had a role to play. The women got involved early in cooking, the girls and the young brides were singing ritual songs, the little children at that time had walked from house to house as a kid, gave them walnuts and bread rolls.

The men put on new clothes and went to the woods to cut a tree. There was a hole in it, where most of the frankincense, wine, and olive oil were placed.The aperture was sealed with beeswax and wrapped in white flax or hemp.So, the smoker, he was solemnly put in the hearth. He had to burn all night.From time to time, they have beaten him with a mask and a rhinestone. It was believed that the more sparks come out, the more animals will be born – lambs, calves, which were vital for food.

The table

She stood on a straw on the ground around the fireplace, so that everyone would face the fire. There are long, narrow tablecloths on which the whole crowd can be arranged.

The table had several basic elements, including the various ritual breads and food. The number of dishes can be different – 7, 9 or 12. It was made of everything the family produced during the year – beans, sherbet, stuffed peppers with beans and rice and walnuts. Also wheat – in this form of seed that will be sown and germinate, it will give birth to the grain of the grain, it will be harvested and it will get involved in order to become the bread that will be broken. This trapeze element symbolizes a very interesting circle.There is also a garlic (to protect against unclean forces), a cloud (the crow is numerous as its scales and the property), honey (sweet life) and dried fruit.Let us not forget the pitcher of water, as well as the spoon of wine and brandy.

On such important holidays, it was believed that something like magic was acting. Putting the food on the table, people had hoped that next year they would be in the same or a larger quantity, which is very important for a peasant family. And first of all, it was the bread. Not by chance among the most prominent Bulgarian proverbs have “taken the bread in their hands”, “I make my bread”. It is among the most basic foods.

Ritual Breads

Several types of bread were prepared for Christmas Eve. One was rich in dough decoration in the shape of birds, leaves, cross, sun, circle. He was placed at the center of the table. Another kind of bread was devoted to the main rural occupations – agriculture and cattle breeding, it was called the house and the farm, and on it were depicted the animals, the pens, the vines, the barrels. The third kind of bread – in the form of cowboy cows with a hole in the middle – was designed for carolows who, after midnight, had gone home.

The Paradise Tree

The Christmas tree became an element of the celebration at the beginning of the twentieth century, but its traditional decoration is related to the past dinner table – it was decorated with dried fruits, popcorn and toy-made toys, and later with specially made shiny, colorful toys. The richly decorated Christmas tree symbolizes the fruit-bearing paradise of wood and its eternal greenery – the hope and the faith in the spring revival of nature.

Christmas Eve

Before the dinner began, the oldest man had tamed the whole house, the outbuildings and, above all, the table. For this purpose, he used a panther – the outermost part of the plow that deepens the ground. The oldest member of the family, regardless of man or woman, broke the bread with steam.Inside, other objects could be found, called something – for example, puppies of dogwood for health. In Western Bulgaria, they put metal buttons that are symbolic of hard work.

Breaking bread is a very important symbol. The prehistoric customs of him correspond to the animal that sacrifices to a god. Christianity introduces the breaking of bread as a sacrificial sacrifice. After he broke, there was a piece about the Virgin Mary, the guard of the home hearth. Only then was a piece of bread distributed to all family members. It was believed that the person who would fall with the money would have the best luck throughout the year.

During dinner, no one should be at the table. In some regions of Bulgaria, they were hunched if they accidentally had to become something – so to grab the heavy grain. And after dinner they waited for the carolines to pass.

Christmas and Survakari

From the night of Christmas Eve to the Jordan Day are the so-called “Dirty days”. It was believed that then there was a complete chaos in nature, and all dark forces could harm humans – karauduguli, werewolves and goblins.Christianity explains this in the following way – when Jesus is born, they call it the Jordanian, and when the children are unbaptized, they are susceptible to all kinds of threats. That is why in those days people have stayed at home and have not left at night. Only the Kedars and the Survakars were protected and free to move. One through the different elements they put on their garments as decorations, and the others – because they are masked.

The chauffeurs were mostly bachelors, but not only – young men. They began gathering together and studying the Christmas songs from Ignazhden, 20 December. They had been the head of the group of older and married.Ordinarily, their decoration was a cap – an ivy of ivy, for example, attached to a red thread that has a protective function in our tradition. On Christmas Eve, they walked around all the houses and made special wishes – if there is a maiden or a bachelor for their grooming, for example. They donated them with a variety of products – walnuts, bacon, oats, and special breads with a hole in the middle, so they could put on their ghettos and carry them.

Survacars are again young men and bachelors who went out masked on the New Year’s night. They have put two types of masks. One type is called “lychee” and has more feathers. The other one is a small cop, carved from a log, with skins. Protective function was played by the big bells hanging on their clothes. Survakanne – striking the back with a goose twig and saying “Surva, it’s a merry year” is again magical. With the touch of a dog that first blooms and is very tough, a part of its vitality and strength is transmitted to the surviving man.

The material was prepared in an interview with the ethnographer Vera Karelezova.


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