The young mother is leaning on the bed over two sleeping angels. The baby twins look like cherubs with their golden hair and rosy cheeks. The old women, who have come to pay praise to the mother and her children, admire the sight for a few minutes… and then spit on the babies: “Пу, пу! Да те насерат кокошките!”
Don’t worry, it’s not what it seems!
According to the Bulgarian superstition, the jealous Devil hears all praises and steals or harms the object of admiration. That’s why when a baby is born, or when a child is exceptionally beautiful, we pretend to be spitting on it and say “may the chickens poop on you” out loud, so that we deceive the Devil. The whole thing in Bulgarian sounds like: “Pu, pu! Da te naserat kokoshkite!”
This constant fear that something wonderful might happen to us, but someone might see it, become jealous, and take it away from us is deeply engrained in the Bulgarian mindset. Since childhood, we are taught not to boast too much and not to trumpet abroad our happiness because someone might jinx us. Being too beautiful, too healthy, too successful, always comes at a price.
Maybe this strange mindset originates from the 500-year period when Bulgarians were under Ottoman yoke. For 25 generations, Bulgarians had to hide their religion and any fortune from the oppressors. The law was such that if a Christian wore beautiful clothes or rode a horse in front of Muslims, those would be taken away from the Christian.
Often, Ottomans stole the beautiful Bulgarian girls they liked and made them wives in their harem. Once in a few years, Bulgarians had to pay a “blood tax”: the Ottomans collected the strongest and healthiest young Bulgarian boys, took them to the hearth of the empire, converted them to Islam, made them forget their home and parents, and trained them as the most ferocious among the sultan’s soldiers. Thus, our people came to believe that everything good and beautiful should be kept hidden. This was their survival tactic.
Today, it is cute superstition.