Christmas in Bulgaria: Odd Numbers and Nightly Chants

Written by on December 18, 2016 in Culture, Latest, Leisure - No comments

For all Christians, including Orthodox communities, Christmas stands for the birth of Jesus Christ, their Lord or Saviour, which they celebrate. But the way they celebrate differs a lot.

While to most Western European Christians, Christmas Eve on December 24th is the most important night during the holidays, Orthodox Christians in some countries used to celebrate Christmas on January 7th. And while there are four weeks of Advent for German Christians, who light candles on an Advent garland during the last four Sundays before Christmas, Bulgarian Orthodox Christians celebrate 40 days of Advent.

December 20th does not play a big role for Western Christians. To Bulgarians, Mary started her labour on that day, four days before Jesus was born.

In today’s Bulgaria, the celebration starts on December 24th, with traditions which are surprising to newbies among expats in Bulgaria.

On Christmas Eve, Bulgarian families, among them the many atheists down here, would sit around the dinner table, which would contain lots of different dishes. It has to be an uneven number. Usually, they have seven, nine or eleven dishes. And none of them should contain meat. So, there would be salads, peppers, sermi (wine leaves filled with rice), feta cheese, other cheeses, beans and more.

One of the dishes would usually be a large pita bread, with a coin baked into it. The oldest person at the table would give a piece of bread to everyone. And whoever finds the coin, will have a great year. By the way: The number of people sitting around the table should be odd too, just like the number of dishes.

There is a tradition, which might still be followed by peasants in Bulgarian villages: Bringing a wooden plough into the house and parking it behind the door will substantially improve the crops they will harvest the following year. Some families also put straw under the table cloth.

Christmas presents would not be given out until the morning of December 25th. And the family dinner that day is not vegetarian at all. It usually contains a huge amount of pork, as if they wanted to compensate for the vegetarian Christmas Eve dinner.

Believers will head for the churches on Christmas Eve. In Christian Orthodox tradition, they would walk through the village or town afterwards, chanting and singing, until the sun comes up.

In modern day Bulgaria, especially in the big cities, many Bulgarians would spend the bigger part of Christmas strolling through malls and eating in restaurants.

Christmas trees are almost as popular in Bulgaria, as in other predominantly Christian countries.

Bulgarian Muslims would not celebrate Christmas, unless they are part of a Christian family. For the Jewish minority, things will be convenient this time around, since Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve this year. That is when they light the first candle on their Menorahs.

By Imanuel Marcus




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