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Christmas in Bulgaria

by Tihomir Tsenkulovski (EU International Relations and Diplomacy - Manuel Marin promotion)

I look forward to spending some blissful moments with my family over the Christmas holidays, to seeing friends, relatives and some of my former teachers. Christmas Eve (Бъдни вечер) on 24 December when the whole family is reunited and seated at the table is especially beautiful and serene.

As the ancient tradition goes, we prepare an odd number of special meatless dishes for the festive meal. Each dish on the table has a symbolic meaning - honey, so that life will be sweet; oshav - a dried-fruit compote representing fertility and abundance; red peppers dried in the summer sun filled with slowly baked beans and herbs, so the next year will be abundant; nuts, especially, walnuts to tell fortunes for what the new year holds; grapes and cabbage leaves stuffed with rice; legume soup like pea or lentil as a symbol of fertility; corn, onions, garlic, red wine are also part of the meal. Tradition holds that the more dishes on the table, the richer the next harvest will be.

Bulgarian Christmas bread or Koledna pitka is typically eaten on Christmas Eve. Often, a silver coin is tucked inside and the one to find it should expect good luck and prosperity in the coming year. A Budnik or ceremonial log (from an oak, pear or elm tree) is brought into the house and set alight in the fireplace. Straw is put under the table as a token of hope for good crops in the year to come. The oldest member of the family expresses a blessing with a candle in their hand before the meal starts. Everyone talks at a low voice and the meal is deliberately comprised of very simple and modest yet delicious dishes to symbolise our gratitude, joy and humbleness.

We often talk about fond memories from the year that is about to end and our hopes for the future. No-one leaves the table during the meal and, when it is finished, the dishes remain during the whole night – the table is not cleared up. It is believed that the deceased come to enjoy the remainder of the meal. At midnight, carol singers called Koledari start calling at neighbours' houses dressed in traditional costumes. The hosts treat the Koledari to drinks and food for their merry singing. Christmas Day often culminates in a large dance of people holding hands called horo. We will be offering the chance to learn and dance horo at the College during the next semester. It is bound to be exciting!

All I want for Christmas is EU - Issue n. 3, 24 December 2018


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