The Christmas holiday is celebrated across many countries and cultures throughout the world. Though it may be a common holiday, different cultures have their own traditions and beliefs related to Christmas. If you celebrate this holiday in the U.S. you are probably familiar with things such as the nativity story, celebrating the birth of Christ, decorating with trees and lights, Santa Claus, gifts for loved ones, preparing special food, and many more traditions that we share with our family and friends. These traditions can be common in other parts of the world as well, including in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is primarily a country whose main religion follows the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. However, they are unique in that, unlike the Eastern Orthodox church who celebrates Christmas on January 7th, Bulgaria celebrates Christmas on December 25th, like many western countries. This is because Bulgaria follows the Gregorian calendar and other Eastern Orthodox countries follow the Julian calendar.
Various traditions leading up to Christmas that are an important part of their holiday celebrations such as Ignazhden or St. Ignatius Day, 40 days of advent, and Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. Ignazhden is celebrated on the 20th of December and it commemorates the day that the Virgin Mary began laboring and St. Ignatius marked this day as the transition into the new year. The 40 days of advent closes with their Christmas Eve celebration on December 24th with a vegetarian meal to encourage abundance in the year to come. Common food that is prepared for this meal includes stuffed peppers, fruits, and a round loaf of bread that has a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the slice of bread with the coin will have good luck in the next year. Walnuts are also cracked during this meal by each person to see if the next year will bring them luck. On Christmas Day Bulgarians will celebrate with a big meal that will include meat, most likely pork. All of these traditions are deeply rooted in religion and folklore and have existed as tradition for hundreds of years in Bulgaria.
Recently, a more modern celebration has been incorporated during this holiday season, the Christmas Market, known as Kolidariya held in the capital city Sofia, Bulgaria. Spread across the Borisava Gradina Park, Christmas decorations, lights, and booths create a small winter wonderland. At this festival, visitors will find handcrafted items, food and drink, and a cozy Christmas atmosphere with holiday decorations filling the park. There is evident German influence with food that is offered, such as different types of sausage. Traditional Bulgarian drink, a grape brandy called Greyana Rakiya is very popular among Bulgarian people and is consumed during the celebration. The market begins at the end of November and goes through January 7th, the day Christmas is celebrated for other Eastern Orthodox Christians in other countries.
Understanding the holidays and traditions where your adopted children come from are a great way to keep them connected to their culture as they grow and develop. It is a part of who they are and this is a great way to incorporate their culture into your home. Merry Christmas to you and your family! Or as they say in Bulgaria, Весела Коледа (Vesela Koleda)!