Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas on January 7th because most Orthodox Churches use still today the old Julian Calendar, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar, so Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December.
For many Bulgarians, the preparations for Christmas start with Advent, which lasts 40 days in the Orthodox Church and starts on November 15th.
According to one legend, Mary started her labor on Ignazhden, December 20th (Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Day) and she gave birth on Christmas Eve but the birth of Jesus wasn’t announced until Christmas Day.
20th December is also the traditional new year in Bulgarian culture, and it’s traditional to eat a special ring shaped caked called “kolaks”.
Christmas Eve, called in bulgarian Badni Veche, is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten this evening, a meal which should traditionally have an odd number of dishes, normally 7, 9 or 11 and an odd number of people sitting around the table. Remember: salt, pepper and sugar can count as separate dishes!
On the table there’s also a special round and decorated loaf of bread traditionally called ‘pita’ which has a coin baked in it: If you find it, you probably have good luck for the next year! The bread is normally cut by the oldest person at the meal and they hand it around the table.
This is a vegetarian meal which encourages abundance in the coming year. It includes beans soup, cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, different kinds of pastries (cheese, pumpkin and sweets pastries soaked in syrup), some kolaks, lots of fruits and nuts like dried plums, dried apricots, oranges and tangerines and “oshav”a dried fruit compote. Nuts are cracked to predict success or failure for the coming year.
It’s traditional that the table is left with all the food on it until the morning of Christmas Day. Some people think their ancestors might like something to eat during the night!
On Christmas Day some families will have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, normally pork.
Straw is often put under the tablecloth and another old tradition consist in bring a wooden plough into your house and put it behind the door, to help you have good crops during the next year.
Following the Christmas Eve dinner, some people will go to a Midnight Mass, and it’s possible hear also Koledari (carol singers) which are normally young men who go carol singing dressed in traditional clothing, and the singing can only start after midnight, and often they sing all night.
When they reach a house they sing, praising and wishing the house well: having the Koledari visit your home is meant to be good luck.
After the singing, you can give to the Koledari some food to thank them for singing, food like “Koledni gevreci”, which are round buns or “banitsa”, a layered pastry filled with cheese.
Christmas Trees are popular throughout the country, and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some people, expecially in villages, still have a traditional Yule Log (normally from an oak, elm or pear tree) known as a “badnik”which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve.
Santa is known as ‘Дядо Коледа, Dyado Koleda, which means Grandfather Christmas, while In bulgarian Merry Christmas is Vesela Koleda.