Bulgarians are denominated as Greek Orthodox Christians, so we celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24th. (In contrast, other Orthodox countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine*, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia follow the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church and celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6th and Christmas on Jan 7th). It is a very private holiday, and is always celebrated by the (closest or extended) family at home.
On the morning of December 24th , my mother and I clean the entire house early and start preparing the meals. We are supposed to have fasted for the past forty days, but none of us is that religious or, as a matter of fact, that strong-willed. But even though we don’t fast, we always make sure that the Christmas Eve dinner is free of meat, cheese, butter, etc.
According to the custom, we prepare an odd number of meals. Scroll down to learn more about each one.
We all sit around the table, and my father (or the oldest person at the table) reads the prayer. Then he breaks up the pitka, a special bread that my mother makes from flour, salt, water, and yeast only. The first piece is for the Mother of God and Her Son. The second one is for the house, and after that dad distributes the rest of the bread to the four of us. Then we look for the hidden coin in the bread, which would bring good luck and prosperity to whoever finds it! This year, the coin was in my father’s piece, which is ok because it takes the pressure off me and my brother!
In addition to the bread, we have bobena chorba (bean soup), zelevi sarmi (rice stuffed in sour cabbage leaves), kolacheta (donut-shaped bread), two types of tikvenik (pumpkin banitza), oshav (fruit compote), and fresh fruit. We drink red wine (yes, even my seventeen-year-old brother, Viva Europe!). All the meals should remain on the table throughout the night, so that the good luck does not leave our house.
My family exchanges presents before or after dinner. I guess we just don’t have the patience to wait until Christmas Day morning like Americans do. In the past, my mom would make me and my brother walk the dog. Then as we come back in, she would tell us we just missed Santa by a few minutes, and we would rush toward the Christmas tree.
We do decorate Christmas trees and we do have Santa in Bulgaria. The older generation actually knew the Soviet version of Santa Claus, Diado Mraz (Grandpa Frost). Diado Mraz is very similar to Santa with the only exception that he is usually accompanied by his daughter, Snezhanka (SnowWhite) and brings us presents on New Year’s Eve.
We then spend the rest of Christmas Eve watching movies or Christmas concerts on TV or playing games. It truly is our most favorite family holiday!