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St. Nikola, a Bulgarian icon

Today, December 6th, is one of the bigger holidays in Bulgaria: Nikylden, or the Day of St. Nikola Mirlikiiski, or St. Nikola the Miracle-Maker. St. Nikola is the guardian of fishermen, sailors, travelers, tradesmen, and bankers (Who can tell me what the connection between them is ?). Nikola was a historical figure born in 270 BC in Patara (today in Turkey). Legend says he inherited a great fortune from his father but gave it all away to those in need. The saint also performed many miracles that delivered sailors and fishermen safely from sea tempests. According to another legend, he plugged a hole in a ship with a carp fish and thus saved it from sinking!

Nikylden is more than a religious day for the Orthodox Christians; it is also a nameday for all bearers of the name Nikola, Nick, Nikoleta, Kolio, Nikolai, Nicholas, etc; actually, most Bulgarian families celebrate the holiday even if they don’t have a Nick in the family.

Poseidon (Neptune) puts a pagan spin on the celebration of St. Nikola

St. Nikola is also associated with the sea, ocean, rivers, and lakes, and in this sense is similar to the Greek god Poseidon (called Neptune in Roman mythology). Germanic nations also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, although slightly differently, and even associate this saint with Santa Claus.

In Bulgaria, we eat fish on December 6th – preferably fish with scales like carp or sheat-fish because “naked” fish without scales symbolized poverty. We bake the fish whole and stuff it with walnuts (check out a few typical Bulgarian Nikylden recipes here).

To me and my family, the Nikylden feast is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Feast because my father is called Nikola and he is a “tradesman”. This means that my house is always full of guests on this day!

Traditionally, you don’t send official invitations for your nameday: you are supposed to prepare a big meal and expect your closest people to show up for dinner by themselves. So you basically never know who is showing up until they do, but you expect your closest relatives, godparents, best man and woman, and good neighbors to pay a visit. They might bring flowers, alcohol, and other presents.  Don’t expect them to leave before 2am.

Stuffed carp - I want to be home right now!

The table is, naturally, very festive! In addition to the stuffed carp, my mother also prepares salmon, shark, scard fish and turbot (eh, probably not all of them every time!). We have a variety of salads and other yummy dishes and lots of wine – Villa Melnik of course!

I’m so angry I missed it again this year, but HAPPY NIKYLDEN, DAD!

The Russian church St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker in Sofia, Bulgaria

Namedays are very big in Bulgaria, maybe even bigger than birthdays. There are less presents for the person celebrating but more of a communal feel since this day is not a personal celebration, but a celebration of all people who bear the same name, of the saint, and of all the virtues that the saint represents. I love my name, Militza, because it is the name of my great-grandmother and is very rare, but I’ve always been jealous that it is too rare to have a saint or a nameday associated with it! Oh well, I just get to celebrate my birthday and half-birthday!

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You Might Also Enjoy:

The Newborn Baby and the Naming Dilemma

St. Sophia and Her Daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love

Tsvetnitsa: Name Day for All Flowers

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On Sunday, I went to a fabulous Bulgarian-English wedding at the St. Nedelya church in Sofia. I want to tell you more about the mother of the bride because she is an exceptional woman!

She is married to an Englishman, and they have lived in London forever, yet their two children (the bride and her brother) were baptized as Orthodox Christians instead of Anglicans like the father.

This Bulgarian woman has taught her children such love and respect for their roots that the bride decided to marry in Sofia, in an Orthodox church, despite the fact that her groom and his family (and her own family on the English side) are Anglican! Thus, the groom, his parents, and all of their British guests, including some guests from Brunei, had come to our St. Nedelya church for the ceremony! To make everything perfect, they baptized their little baby boy as an Orthodox Christian too!

The wedding ceremony in the beautifully painted church was lead by two priests: one to perform the ritual, and one to sing accompanied by the choir. Then, all the guests, mostly British and a few Bulgarians, went out of the church and reentered a few minutes later for the second ceremony, the baby’s baptism. The baby started to laugh as its feet touched the water basin!

Next, we all headed for the Sheraton, Sofia’s oldest and most renowned hotel. The menu was only typical Bulgarian cuisine presented in a gourmet way. The entertainment was splendid too: four dancers in national garments and a folklore singer and bagpiper kept both the foreign and local guests in good spirits all night long. The Brits picked up our rhythms surprisingly fast!

Wearing the crowns during the wedding ceremony in St. Nedelya church in Sofia

This was a wonderful transnational interreligious wedding, and it was all made possible thanks to the vigor of that incredible Bulgarian mother of the bride who not only preserved her national sprit in the foreign land, but also continued it through her children and grandchildren.

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Read more about traditional Bulgarian wedding rituals 

or about a rather upsetting baptism ceremony in an Orthodox monastery.

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Gourmet Bulgarian appetizers: lukanka, shopska salad, snezhanka salad, kashkaval, kyopulu, grape leaf sarmi

Traditional breaking of the bread: whoever breaks the bigger part off the bread will be the leader in the home. These are two couples: the newlyweds and the bride's recently married brother and sister-in-law.

I uploaded these videos from the party at the Sheraton Hotel. I think it’s obvious who are the Brits and who the Bulgarians! Enjoy!


I just came back from London (that’s twice in a month’s time) and I’m still in a Royal Wedding mood! But instead of talking to you about the abundance of Will and Kate merchandise there, I will naturally tell you more about the Bulgarian traditional wedding.

By an old custom, the Bulgarian bride's veil is red

The wedding is probably the most lavish of our rituals and carries a lot of symbolism bequeathed to us by our ancestors, the pagan Slavs. There are several stages:

Matchmaking: Firstly, members of the boy’s family, or at least the father and uncle, pay a secretive visit to the girl’s house in order to “make an assessment of it” and to meet her parents. This happens in the evening or at night so that the boy’s family can walk away without a public embarrassed if they are rejected. If the two sides achieve and agreement, they will celebrate the engagement and drink rakia for the good health of their youth.

Later, the boy’s extended family can pay an official engagement visit and bring presents for the future bride and her family.  This is when the couple exchanges rings – an iron one for the strong, mighty groom, and a golden one for the pure, noble bride.  Only after this engagement, the boy and the girl are allowed to meet in public and to dance next to each other at the horo. The wedding itself might take place as long as 2-3 years later.

Braiding the hair of the bride-to-be meant the end of her carefree girlhood.

Pre-wedding rituals: The young bride’s girl friends gather at her house and prepare ritual breads with magic significance: they knead the boy’s ring and girl’s bracelet into the dough and decorate the bread with dough birds as a symbol of marriage. The young girls also decorate a branch of a special tree, which will be later given to the best man for ransom. They also make a red-and-white wedding  flag and decorate it with an apple and a bunch of basil.

The bride has to wear “something old” to remind her of her family and her past, “something new” that will bring her luck in her new life, “something borrowed” to signify that her friends and family will always help her, and “something blue” to symbolize fidelity.

The moment when the young girls braid the long hair of the bride-to-be is very important because it signifies that she is leaving the careless childhood and becoming a married woman. For the ancient Slavs loose hair means a free person. This is a very sad moment at the house of the girl, and all her friends and female relatives try to persuade her to remain a child and stay at home.

In some parts of the country, the bride's face is beautifully painted. The hair is decorated with flowers and golden coins.

In contrast, the mood at the groom’s house is festive because the family is not losing but adding a new member. His friends shave his beard, which symbolizes the end of bachelorhood.

Taking the Bride: With loud singing and merrymaking in the streets, the groom’s party goes to the girl’s house, but finds the door locked. In order to receive the bride, the groom and his best man have to go through some challenges that include paying ransom by stuffing the bride’s shoe with money, having to pay for the best man’s decorated branch and flag, and even fighting with the bride’s brother!

As the young bride finally leaves her father’s house, she is wearing a red veil to protect her from the evil eye, and her girl friends are singing bittersweet songs. Traditionally, the Slav bride wore a red dress, but this changed to white during Roman times.  Oats, millet, and walnuts are thrown in the air above the couple to symbolize fertility.

The entire wedding party goes to the church where the two are wed. After that, there is dancing, singing, eating, drinking, and feasting for “three days and three nights”.

At the New House:  The girl is taken to the house of the boy where the two of them will live from now on. The first night for the newlyweds is very important. The groom’s sisters-in-law prepare their bed with the special linen that the bride has been sawing and embroidering since she was a child. At some point during that night, the groom will shoot his pistol in the air and take the bride’s shirt outside – so that everyone can see that she was pure (all Bulgarian girls are pure, naturally!).

A traditional wedding continues for several days and the entire village celebrates together with the two family kins.

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There you go! Now did somebody say that the Royal Wedding was too flamboyant? 🙂

For more beautiful pictures from old weddings in Sofia, check out: http://stara-sofia.com/obichai.html


As surprising as it sounds, studying “double-abroad” for a semester in London, UK, while studying full-time in Boston, USA, has helped me rediscover my connection with Bulgaria and with my family in many new ways.

As I was strolling about South Kensington last week, I happened upon the most beautiful tri-colored flag fluttering above the door, on the side of which there was a golden plaque saying Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria. What a nice surprise to find out that my Embassy was right next door to me during my stay in London! I wouldn’t have thought about looking for it myself.

Yet the feeling of comfort at the sight of my national flag was nothing compared to the feeling of comfort when I met with my cousin, Petra. Petra bears the name of my father’s mother, and I – that of his grandmother.

Petra just completed her undergraduate degree here in London, and is now looking for a job in the non-profit sector. Because both of us study abroad, we rarely saw each other in the recent years. It was amazing to hear how similar our stories about living and studying abroad sound, and how we both try to popularize the Bulgarian culture and history among our friends. Maybe she too should start a blog.

The highlight of our reunion was when Petra and I went to a folklore dance class at the Embassy.  It is a beautiful building and an arts gallery. We danced in the main hall, surrounded by contemporary Bulgarian paintings, right in front of the grand staircase and a golden Bulgarian Coat of Arms. There were ten-fifteen dancers, both beginners and almost-professionals, and one instructor. We danced to some of the most famous national folk songs. At one point, we were all dancing the horo and singing „Имала майка едно ми чедо, едно ми чедо Никола” (see the video). At this moment, I was sure that everyone felt very patriotic!

The dance classes at the embassy take place every Thursday and Friday from 7:30pm. Usually, both Bulgarians and foreigners of all ages attend. It’s a great way to celebrate the Bulgarian folklore and to get a good work out!

 

Check out the official website of Boiko Andonov, a  Bulgarian folklore dancer and choreographer in London.


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.

My father reads the prayer before dinner

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!

The lucky coin from the special bread was in my father's piece

My grandma sent us these donut-shaped breads called kolache

The good bobena chorba takes a couple of hours to make

These are the zelevi sarmi, stuffed cabbage leaves, and the fruit compote called oshav

Tivkenik, or pumpkin banitza with walnuts is the ultimate Bulgarian Christmas dessert. I made this one!


I just came back from the best ski resort on the Balkans, Bansko! Bansko is a charming town in the north-east part of the Pirin mountain, situated at the foot of peak Vihren (2914m). The town’s unique architecture, combined with the new hotels, the entertainment establishments, and the modern ski and snowboard facilities, makes Bansko a favorite winter destination for foreign and Bulgarian tourists.

In total, the ski slopes in Bansko are 70 km long, and with the help of my ski instructor, I’m proud to say, I conquered almost 10 of them! Not only did this patient, dedicated person teach me how to fall, stop, and turn (in this order), but he also introduced me to a key skiing concept: après-ski.

Après-ski refers to the socializing, eating, drinking, dancing, and general merrymaking after skiing. I don’t know how they do it in the Alps, but in Bulgaria, après-ski takes place in a mehana: a tavern-like restaurant with a huge wine selection, a grill, and often times, with live folk music. And what better way to celebrate the joy of the beloved winter sport than with good friends, hot mulled red wine, and a traditional Bulgarian meal! Here are several of my favorites:

Let's begin with the quintessential Bulgarian dish, Shopska Salad: fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion, roasted red peppers, lots of sirene (white feta cheese), parsley, and a kalamata olive.

Continue with warm agneshka chorba (lamb soup). Notice the clay bowl and the table cloth with folk motifs.

A sach is a hot clay plate. The Banski sach meal can contain a mix of different meats and vegetables. This one has two types of sausage, aubergines, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, onion, peppers and mushrooms.

There should always be meze on the table to go with the hot mulled red wine from the Melnik region. Here you see sirene (white cheese) and two types of lukanka, one of which is the famous Banski staretz ("old man from Bansko".. I hope it's not what it sounds..). After all this food, you don't need any dessert!

What else happened in Bansko?

This town is famous not only for the great mountain resort, but also for its rich history and culture. Here, on August 21st 1901, the Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski kidnapped the American missionary Elen Maria Stone and held her for six months until the attention of the whole Western world fell not only on the kidnapping but also on the fate of the entire Balkan peoples after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Read my previous post to learn more about the international crisis known as the Miss Stone Affair.


Our extended family has a new member! A perfect little Christmas gift for my cousin and his wonderful wife!

Grumpy BabyBut what a turmoil the little fellow caused, even before he was named!

In Bulgaria, grandparents-grandchildren name continuity is a very powerful tradition. For us, naming our children after our parents is a sign of respect and gratitude.   I was named after my father’s grandmother. My brother, after my grandfather. My cousin, after our grandmother, and so on, going generations back.

We don’t know why, but my cousin’s wife decided to break the tradition and give her son a unique name. It’s not that big of a deal and no one would have normally noticed anything (because many people follow the tradition, but many also don’t), but it somehow created some tension… or should I say, bitterness. The issue is that the grandfather-to-be really wanted the child to be named after him. He actually said out loud that he would love to give his name to the only son of his only son.

Without questioning the mother’s choice not to honor her father-in-law, I was just wondering, what or who do parents in other countries choose to honor when naming their child?

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Did you know that the second names in Bulgaria are derivatives of the father’s first name? The father’s name gets the suffix –ov for boys and –ova for girls.  For example, if Katerina’s father is called Ivan Petrov, her full name would be Katerina Ivanova Petrova (wink wink to all Vampire Diaries’  and Nina Dobrev’s fans!). In contrast, American parents come up with both their child’s first and second name. Some of my American friends’ first name is “regular”, while their second name represents their ethnicity or cultural heritage: like Shalini or Ryan.

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You celebrate Birthdays? But do you celebrate Name Days? Bulgarians do.

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Why do Bulgarians spit on a baby for good luck?


 

The Bulgarian Rose is an essential ingredient of Katy Perry's debut fragrance, Purr.

 

Pop diva Katy Perry launched her debut fragrance, Purr, in early November. The perfume is sold at Nordstrom for $45 for 50 ml and $65 for 100 ml. The Nordstrom description reads:

“Purr by Katy Perry begins with the aroma of peach nectar and forbidden apple, evolves with a distinct floral bouquet of jasmine blossom, Bulgarian rose and vanilla orchid, and slowly reveals accents of creamy sandalwood and musk. Like the singer herself, Purr is playful yet sophisticated. Katy Perry transcends barriers with her music—so does her new fragrance.”

Let me tell you more about the legendary Bulgarian rose.

There is a place in Bulgaria, between the Balkan Mountain Range (Stara Planina) from North and Sredna Gora Mountain on the South and Stryama River to the West and Tundzha River to the East, called the Valley of Roses (Rozova Dolina). For centuries, people here have cultivated the Kazanlak Rose and extracted its valuable Rose Oil.

 

The Kazanlak Rose is one of Bulgaria's national symbols.

 

The scientific name of the Kazanlak rose, named after the major town in the Valley of Roses, Kazanlak, is Rosa Damascena. It has very small but very fragrant pink and pink-red flowers. From its petals, we produce the world-renown Bulgarian Rose Oil, also known as Rose Otto or Rose Attar.

It takes about 3000-3500 kilograms of rose petals to produce 1 kilogram of rose oil, which in turn costs about $7,000. In the past, the price of rose oil almost reached that of gold, so to Bulgarians, Rose Otto is “the liquid gold.”

 

Young rose-pickers throw petals in the air along the streets of Kazanlak

 

Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world. Other top producers are Turkey, Morocco, Iran, France, and Italy. The rose oil is widely used in the perfume, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries (Read more about Rose Oil Info and Uses). Some of the perfume brands that use rose oil as their essential ingredient are Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci, and Nina Ricci, but undoubtedly the most famous perfume containing Bulgarian Rose is Chanel No.5. The oil is contained even in the most expensive perfume in the world, Imperial Majesty by Clive Christian, which sells for about $300,000 per 500 ml bottle.

Rose oil production is very labor intensive and requires great expertise. The petal-picking season lasts only 20 days in a year. To preserve the best qualities of the petals, the rose-pickers, traditionally young girls, have to gently pick the blossoms one by one early in the morning, before the rising sun evaporates the dew from the petals. Naturally, the rose-picking season is an occasion for celebration.

 

The Bulgarian Festival of the Rose proves that beauty is ageless!

 

The Festival of the Rose (read more) takes place in the beginning of June in Kazanlak since 1903. Some of the highlights include the beauty contest “Queen of the Roses,” the rose-picking ceremony in traditional folk costumes, and the parade with folk music and dance, masked kukeri (read my post on the kukeri carnival), and traditional art. The rose festival in Kazanlak is a true celebration of beauty!

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Did you read my post on the Festival of the National Costume in Zheravna?


Today, September 17, Eastern Orthodox Christians commemorate the day of the martyr Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Love (in Greek, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape; in Bulgarian, Vyara, Nadezhda, and Lyubov).

Sophia was a pious woman who lived in Rome under Emperor Adrian (Hadrian), in the first century AD. She had named her daughters after the main Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love.

When Emperor Adrian found out that the family openly observed Christianity, he ordered them to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. When they refused, the emperor ordered that the young girls, age 12, 10, and 9, be tortured until they rejected Christ.  The girls were killed in the name of their religion and became martyrs. After Sophia buried them, she prayed for three days by their graves and finally died herself, believing she would join them in Heaven.

In our culture, this day is the “name day” of those who bear the names Sofia, Vyara, Nadezhda, or Lyubov, and they receive guests at home.  All Bulgarians celebrate, so that their families are healthy, happy, and filled with love.

Today, we also celebrate the holiday of our capital, Sofia. We have chosen this day to honor our city, although Sofia was not named after the martyr Sophia. In fact, the name of our capital signifies Wisdom. In Greek, Aghia Sophia means the Divine Wisdom of God.

So today, I want to tell my mother, Lyubka, that to me, she signifies All the Love in the World.

Честит празник, мамо!


I would like to join the ongoing in Bulgaria public debate.

In mid-August, the Ministry of Economy presented the video clips for the new advertising campaign for Bulgarian tourism under the slogan “Magic Lives Here”. The campaign aims to change the perception of Bulgaria from a destination for low-cost European youth travel destination, to a more luxurious tourist destination.  The four video clips focus on our Black Sea summer resorts, mountain ski resorts, SPA and wellness centers, eco-tourism and cultural heritage. They are about be broadcasted on four European TV channels: Euronews, Eurosport, Discovery, and National Geographic, in September (read more in Radio Bulgaria’s website).

The project theoretically has a good perspective, but the video clips became notorious because the majority of Bulgarians don’t like them. Newspapers, TV shows, online media, politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities all took a stand in the public debate. The common opinion seems to be that the videos are full of clichés, that they copy other countries’ promo videos from several years ago, are outdated, are executed poorly, have bad quality, and don’t portray Bulgaria accurately.

The most widely discussed aspect, though, is the campaign’s cost. The making and broadcasting of the videos totals at 7.5 million leva (3.7 million euro), which is a significant sum for a country of this size. The campaign is partially funded by the EU. Experts in the field of advertising agree that the production price, almost half a million leva is way too high. Many common people believe that this money would have served better if it were invested in infrastructure.

One is for sure, an ad campaign can always be improved.

Instead of taking part in the blaming and whining, I’d like to take a more productive stand in this debate. Here is my list of the things the next campaign should not omit (in no particular order and without claiming to be exhaustive):

Tourism and Nature:

  • Hikers going to the Seven Rila Lakes
  • White mountain peaks of Rila and Pirin with skiers and snowboarders
  • The wide golden beaches and deep blue of the Black Sea coastline
  • Crowds of people at sea resorts like Sunny Beach and Lozenetz with their luxurious restaurants, clubs and hotels
  • Rafting  in Struma river in September  surrounded by the autumn colors of the forest
  • Small quiet beach camping sites like Smokinia with surfing, windsurfing, and diving
  • Balneotherapy at the mineral hot springs in Velingrad
  • Horseback riding in the Balkan mountain range near the village Skravena
  • Families visiting the Thracian sanctuary at Perperikon
  • Beach festivals (The Spirit of Burgas), concerts in the open, and clubs in Sofia
  • Rock-climbing near the Belogradchik rocks
  • Students exploring the prehistoric paintings at the Magura cave and the Ledenika cave
  • Views from Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Rouse

Cultural  and historical heritage:

  • Thracian golden masks and jewelry
  • Ancient Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv
  • Typical architecture of 17th-century houses in Veliko Turnovo
  • Houses-museums of Bulgarian revolutionaries in Koprivshtitza
  • Old crafts from the time Bulgaria was in the Ottoman empire in Etura
  • Vast vineyards and wineries in Melnik, the wine capital of the Balkans
  • Scary masks at the Kukeri carnival in Pernik
  • Nestinarki dancing on fire in the village of Bulgari
  • Esoteric Paneurhythmy dance ritual near the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Children hanging martenitsi on blossoming trees
  • Rose-picking and rose-oil production near Kazanluk
  • Singers and bagpipe-players in traditional garments during the folklore festival in Zheravna
  • People dancing the horo during a wedding
  • Merry crowds enjoying the Bulgarian cuisine, lukanka, liutenitza, banitza, in a kruchma (pub) in Bansko
  • Orthodox Christian baptism in the Rozhen monastery and the icons in the Rila monastery

Today is a national holiday celebrating the Unification of Bulgaria. On September 6th, The Principality of Bulgaria (Княжество България) and Eastern Rumelia (Източна Румелия) were unified into а common state.

The Congress of Berlin in 1878 put an end on the Russo-Turkish War and resurrected Bulgaria after almost 500 years of Ottoman yoke. It divided Bulgaria into an independent state, the Principality of Bulgaria, stretching from the Balkan mountain range to the Danube, and an autonomous state within the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Rumelia, an area between Rila, Rhodopi and the Balkan. The third part of Bulgaria, the region Macedonia, remained entirely in the Ottoman Empire. The reason for this separation was that Great Britain and Austria-Hungary feared restoring Bulgaria to its previous huge territories and providing its new ally, Russia, with too much influence.

In bright orange: Principality of Bulgaria; in light orange: Eastern Rumelia

Naturally, the Bulgarians were not happy with the new arrangement. Their strive for unity after the decay of the Ottoman Empire became part of the Eastern Question.

In 1880, the  Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee was created, and its main task was to unify the Principality and Eastern Rumelia at first and then to aid the unification with Macedonia. BSCRC’s leader was Zahari Stoyanov. The Bulgarian Kniyaz (prince) Alexander I Battenberg himself was patron of the movement.

September of 1885 was marked with riots in Eastern Rumelia, the most famous of which is the riot in Panagyurishte. On September 6, Rumelia’s militia itself took over the governor’s office in Plovdiv. The governor, being a Bulgarian patriot appointed by the Ottomans, did not resist and surrendered Eastern Rumelia to its Bulgarian brothers. Kniyaz Alexander I signed the unification.

The followed diplomatic pressure from England and Russia, both of which expected the short-lived nature of the separated Bulgarian state, prevented the Ottoman Empire from sending troops to Eastern Rumelia. The Unification was a fact. But this was only the beginning of the Macedonian Question.


Every year on August 19th, the Seven Rila Lakes witness the sacred dance Paneurhythmy, or the Supreme Cosmic Rhythm.  The ritual combines movement, music, and words in universal harmony. It is performed by the members of the White Brotherhood (official site), established by the spiritual teacher Peter Deunov (a large collection of his teachings on this site).

The White Brotherhood is partially Esoteric Christianity, partially occultism, partially a new religion and partially a new philosophy. The teaching was founded by the Bulgarian Peter Deunov (1864 – 1944), referred to by his followers as Beinsa Douno.

Peter Deunov was born near Varna when it was still in the Ottoman Empire. After Bulgaria regained its independence, he studied theology in an American protestant school near Svishtov, and later left for the States. In 1893, Deunov graduated from the School of Theology at Boston University, and a year later obtained a medical certification from Boston University’s Graduate School of Medicine (Martin Luther King, Jr. also graduated from BU School of Theology but in 1955). In 1895, he returned to Bulgaria, where he began writing theological and philosophical books, gained followers, became a central figure in the Bulgarian clerical community, and established the White Brotherhood. Deunov’s only personal belongings are the white costume and shoes, a violin, and a Bible.

Cardinal Giuseppe Roncalli, later elected as Pope John XXIII, said:“In the present epoch the greatest philosopher living on the earth is Peter Deunov.”

Beinsa Dounos’ teachings emphasize love, wisdom, truth, justice, and virtue as attributes to Jesus Christ, who was a historic, cosmic, and mystic figure. The disciples of the teaching also follow a special diet, replace medicine with drinking hot water, meditate, and perform physical and musical exercises. The New Teaching, as the spiritual master calls it, is a complex system of rules and guidance for every aspect of life: spiritual, cultural, and scientific.

***

On August 19th, 2010, about 2000 followers from Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, England, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal took part in the ritual Paneurhythmy near Lake Babreka, part of the Seven Rila Lakes (read my previous post) in order to celebrate the New Year according to the White Bortherhoood’s calendar. In pairs, the participants form two big concentric circles with the orchestra in the middle and dance under the sunrise.

Paneurhythmy is a series of dance movements performed in the morning between March 22 and September 22, accompanied by various musical instruments. For best result it is performed in a group and out in the nature. Paneurhythmy benefits the breathing, blood circulation, and general physical health, as well as for concentration, positive thinking, and the sense of harmony with other people, with nature, and with the universe. This Supreme Cosmic Rhythm has a miraculous effect on the mental and spiritual health.

***

All the world renders homage to me, and I render homage to the Master Petar Deunov from Bulgaria,” Albert Einstein.




For the next three days, the village of Zheravna will be a one-of-a-kind time machine.  The Festival of The National Costume Zheravna 2010 will take place from August 20th to 22nd for the third year in a row. It will gather thousands of people from all regions of Bulgaria to celebrate with dance and music as their ancestors did 100-150 years ago.

The only condition for attending the festival is to wear a traditional costume. It could be authentic, theatrical, or custom-made. It could represent any region, social status, profession, or craftsman guild. See pictures and read more about Bulgarian folk costumes on the official website from the link above.

Participants will enjoy traditional cuisine: meze, cheeses, dried and grilled meats, banitza, breads, wine, and rakia. They will observe and take part in old-style wrestling, kukeri parades, nestinari dances, and the work of various craftsmen. The celebrations will be accompanied by traditional bagpipes, kettle drums, and cymbals as well as by dance performances by professional folklore ensembles and troupes from all Bulgarian ethnographic regions and other Balkan countries.

The use of modern devices and technology, even of chairs, forks, and watches is very restricted in order to ensure the authenticity of the experience. The festival is organized by Foundation “Bulgare”. Zheravna 2010 is a truly magnificent reincarnation of Bulgarian culture and heritage.


Rise your hand if lately, you’ve picked ripe tomatoes from the vine, peppers and eggplants from the garden, melons and watermelons from the field, and figs from the tree. No? I’m not surprised.

This weekend, I went back to Kapatovo, the picturesque village in the Melnik region where my father was born. I indulged in the sun, the clean air, and the fresh fruit and vegetables.

I’m glad that the Bulgarian countryside is full of such villages where life hasn’t changed for the past fifty years. Villages like Kapatovo are inhabited by elderly people who came back to their places of birth after their retirement or by old people who never left and who only sent their children to the big cities.

Life in the villages of the Melnik region is calm. The houses are in the traditional architectural style: with white walls that have grey river-stones in the base, with wooden struts that support the balconies, with red-brick roofs, and large gardens that have wooden huts for the animals or hay.  More and more people renovate the old houses to make them into comfortable summer or retirement villas.

The Melnik region is famous for its red wines, so many of the houses have cellars. The vast vineyards growing on the outskirts of Kapatovo, Levynovo, Kromidovo, and Melnik and the famous wineries are a popular destination for wine and village tourism. The warm weather in the valley and the coolness of the Pirin mountain make the region a true Eden.

Food is clean. People grow their fruit and vegetables and look after domestic animals. And let me tell you, there is no greater pleasure than picking a tomato from the plant and sinking your teeth in it while its sweet juice runs down your arm. When you have such a wonderful place to go to, with kind grandparents and neighbors who love to farm, you stop thinking about Organic and Bio foods and growth hormones and corn starch because the food you are eating is real.

DOWN WITH

Organic,

Sugar-free,

Skim,

Bio,

Cage-free,

Eco…

Just give me real food from Kapatovo!


After taking belly-dancing for  a whole semester, it would be a shame not to tell you about a unique Bulgarian dancing ritual, nestinarstvo.

Nestinarstvo is dancing on living coals with bare feet.

This old ritual dates back to pagan times. It is part of the celebration of the day of Saints Konstantin and Elena (the Roman emperor who proclaimed Christianity to be one of the Empire’s official religions and his mother), June 3rd.

In old times, in the morning of that day, the whole village walks in a procession to the nearby river, where the nestinar dancers with consecrate Konstantin and Elena’s icon. The village sets up a huge fire on the main plaza and celebrates during the whole day. By nightfall, only the living coals remain. Then, the nestinary fall into trance. With the icon in hands, they start dancing barefoot on the hot coals under the rhythm of drums. Sometimes, the nestinari (male) and nestinarki (female) speak like prophets. On the next morning, their feet have no signs of burns.

In Bulgaria, the nestinari ritual is typical only for the region of Strandja mountain. Today, the ceremony is still kept only in one village, Bulgari. In other places it is only a tourist attraction.

Surprisingly, other cultures that are very distant from ours have similar practices: some shamans in North Africa and the Far East also dance on fire.

***

Read about other Bulgarian traditions in my blog.


I’m very homesick right now! My family and my aunt’s family are going to our villa in the quaint village of Kapatovo in the Melnik region for the Easter weekend. The garden must be covered in blue spring flowers. The sun will be warm and the breeze will be cool. Spring is the loveliest season  there!

Although the Orthodox tradition calls for red eggs, we decorate them in every way possible!

According to the tradition, my mother and my aunt will paint the eggs on Saturday. We prepare hard boiled eggs and color them in special paints. We make them red, green, blue, orange, and yellow. We use cotton to make the colors gradate. We also use candle wax to draw on the hot eggs and make beautiful imprints. We paint the outlines of leaves with different shapes on the eggs.

On Sunday, everyone will be “dueling” with the eggs:  One person holds the egg with the sharp end down and hits the other person’s egg, which is with the blunt end up. The egg whose shell breaks loses and is eaten. The egg that wins continues to duel other eggs. In the end, there is one champion egg. (When we were kids, my brother and I once found a duck egg, which was bigger and stronger than any chicken’s egg, so we became the ultimate champions!)

In the Orthodox tradition, the red eggs symbolize Christ’s blood. One red egg has to be put aside and kept for the whole year. During the following Easter, the family would open the egg. If it is rotten, the year’s harvest will be poor. But if the egg is still good (and it usually is!), the year will be good, and the house will be full of happiness and prosperity.

Making the kozunak requires a lot of time and effort. My granmother prepares it with raisins and lokum!

The feast in Kapatovo on Sunday will be delicious: All morning, my mother and aunt will be roasting the lamb. My grandmother will prepare rice with pieces of liver. She will also make the salad: green salad with lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, radishes in thin slices and slices of hardboiled eggs on top, and she will crush the lettuce, which always makes it soft and releases its juice. The green salad is very important: it symbolizes spring and the first fresh vegetables and fruit that have been harvested this year.  Finally, my grandmother will make the kozunak: the traditional Easter sweet bread with walnuts, raisins, marmalade, and lokum.

My father will pour our family wine in everyone’s glasses and all will be merry!

I wish I could be with all of you! I love you and have a wonderful Easter!


Gorgeous traditional Bulgarian head decoration, ornamented with flowers and golden coins

Today is Tsvetnitsa (Цветница, from tsvete = flower)! Today Bulgarians who have the names of flowers celebrate!

Bozhura, Violeta, Dalia, Dafina, Elitsa, Jasmina, Zdravko, Kamelia, Kalina, Liliana, Margarita, Malina, Nevena, Ralitza, Roza, Tsveta, Yavor, Yagoda, happy name day to you all!

Bulgarians are lucky to have not only birthdays, but also name days! A name day is usually the holiday of a saint, and everyone with this name celebrates. For example, Valentin, Valentina, and Valio ought to celebrate on February 14th! They would prepare dinner or at least offer some rakia and salad to every guest that comes to their house. No invitations are necessary because everyone knows the dates of major name days. No presents are expected either, only flowers for the ladies, because all you need on this bright day is good food and good company.

The popular celebration of Tsvetnitsa of course has a religious origin. Tsvetnitsa is a Christian holiday (Palm Sunday in Catholicism) that marks the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem. It is celebrated on the Sunday before Easter. It takes place during Lent but people usually prepare fish.

Another name for Tsvetnitsa is Vrubnitsa (Връбница, from vurba = willow tree). According to the tradition, we bring willow tree branches that were sanctified in the church, twine a wreath from them,  and hang it on the front door of our home. The willow branch symbolizes the palm leaves with which the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus and bring health and good luck to the house.

Take a look at this wonderful blog post on Tsvetnitsa-Vrubnitsa from Mystagogy.  And read my other posts on Bulgarian traditions!

What makes you proud of your Name?


We saw a carnival in the Bahamas! The Marina Village in the luxurious resort Atlantis on Paradise Island organizes a mini-carnival on weekend nights (or maybe every night, I don’t know) for the entertainment of its guests. About ten-twenty locals dressed in traditional costumes walked, danced, played music, and sang along the main alley while the crowd of tourists gathered around them and joined in the festivity.

The costumes were gorgeous: long robes and lavish head adornment in bright colors with feathers and beads. The atmosphere was great!

*

The Marina Village carnival reminded me of a similar event in Bulgaria.

The Kukeri Processions

In January, Bulgarian men dress up as Kukeri, ferocious beasts with coats of fur and feathers and large masks with fangs, beaks, and wings who scare the cold and the evil winter spirits away. The kukeri dance around the streets and ring big copper bells (chans).

By tradition, kukeri are young men and bachelors. They gather in groups and every group has a leader. There are similar characters in every group – there is a bride and groom, an old grandmother, a gypsy man with a dancing bear, a king; and all of them are men. Some of the more flamboyant costumes have wolf and fox fur and heads or paws, and real stag horns. Some masks are funny, and some are literally hideous and scary. The kukeri perform different rituals for fertility and good harvest.

The ritual is very typical of Eastern Bulgaria. The biggest annual kukeri carnival takes place in Pernik, just outside of Sofia.

Read more about the Kukeri Processions here. This is a good website on various carnivals around the world and also features articles on the Bulgarian traditions  martenitzi and Trifon Zarezan.


In springtime in Bulgaria, blossoming cherry trees are covered in red-and-white martenitsi.

 

 Today, the Bulgarians in Boston also celebrate Baba Marta! March 1st is the day that marks the beginning of spring!      

The legend says that Baba Marta, or Grandmother March is a good old lady with a changing temper. When she is happy, she sweeps away the winter, cold old Dyado Mraz (Grandfather Frost), and makes way for the sun and the beautiful young Spring. But when Baba Marta is angry, she brings cold March winds.      

On this holiday, we give each other martenitsi , small adornments made from white and red wool, which symbolize good health and vitality during the new year.  We tie martenitsi on the children’s wrists, wear them as brooches, decorate the house with them, and tie them on domestic animals and fruit-trees . We keep our martenitsi on until we see a stork or a budding tree. When we do see these heralds of spring, we tie our martenitsa on the tree-branch, put it under a stone, or set it flowing in a river.      

A martenitsa can have many designs, but the most popular is Pizho and Penda, who are a white wool boy and a red wool girl.

 

I was so disappointed that I had forgotten to bring martenitsi from home (again)! But thanks to my good friend Vladi, I have a martenitsa now! Thank you Vladi! Keep the Bulgarian traditions in Boston going!      

Chestita Baba Marta! 

*** 

Read my post on Trifon Zarezan, the unique Bulgarian holiday of vine-growers and wine-makers, which we celebrate together with St. Valentine’s Day.


If you are in love, celebrate St. Valentine's day. If you are in love with wine, celebrate Trifon Zarezan's Day on Feb 14th (Feb 1st, new style)

You are either very happy or very miserable on Valentine’s Day; there seems to be no middle position.  For most people.

Bulgarians have found a simple solution to this problem of the extreme emotions. We celebrate two holidays on February 14th, St. Valentine’s and St. Trifon Zarezan!

On the day of St. Trifon Zarezan, the guardian of vine-growers, we celebrate our love for wine! According to the old custom, this is the day when you prune the old twigs of the vine, so that it can sprout anew in the spring. This is an old ritual for vitality and fertility. Vine-growers, gardeners, winemakers, tavern-keepers, bartenders, and men called Trifon have a special day.  Together with them, we all feast and drink wine.

Actors dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothing demonstrate how to prune the vines in preparation for the spring

So, if your loved one is with you, celebrate St. Valentine’s! If not, get on some good wine and forget about love!  Different saints for your different desires!

(The Catholic St. Valentine’s Day was not very popular in Eastern Europe before Western pop culture introduced the holiday. Today, shop windows’ decorations, love-themed events, and the general obsession with chocolate, red roses, and pink hearts testify that Bulgarians, as most other peoples, prefer to be drunk on love, not wine.)

You can learn more about the folklore aspect of Trifon Zarezan from this article: http://www.balkanfolk.com/news.php?id=94

Read more about other wonderful Bulgarian traditions, Martenitzi and Kukeri Processions.

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