CHRISTMAS EVE
24 DECEMBER

ROUND LOAF  MEATLESS CHOMLEK  STUFFED CABBAGE LEAVES  BOILED WHEAT  |
WALNUT KERNELS IN THE THRACIAN STYLE  “SWIFT PUMPKIN” DESSERT  STEWED DRIED FRUIT /OSHAV/

It is also called Sukha koleda /Dry Christmas/, Malka koleda /Little Christmas/, Kadena vecher /Incensed Night/, Bozhich. The forty-day Advent, starting on 15 November, finishes on this day. Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of God began her labours on St. Ignatius’ Day and gave birth to God’s son on Christmas Eve, but that she told of it only on the next day. As a rule, when bearing her first child, a young mother did not let others know it on the same day, people were told about the event only on the next day, when guests were invited. The yule-log, the festive dishes, incensation and the ritual breads had an important place in the Christmas Eve festival. The yule-log /badnyak/ is a three-year old timber, specially picked up. It was cut in the wood by a young man who brought it home and made fire with it. According to the popular belief, the yule-log kept the fire in the hearth during the whole year. There were three kinds of ritual bread. The first was dedicated to Christmas. The second one blessed the rural occupations - field farming, cattle-breeding, as well as the house and the household goods. The third kind of bread was made for the waits /koledari/ who would go carolling. Special rituals and songs accompanied the preparation of all three kinds of bread. As songs relate, flour was sifted by three sieves described as silken. Incense was burnt on the ploughshare, and the water used to make the bread was brought in a white caldron by a girl or by a young woman married in the autumn preceding Christmas Eve and having borne no children yet.

The Christmas Eve feast should be plentiful and the dishes - vegetable and odd in number. Traditionally, wheat is boiled and dishes like boiled haricot, leaves stuffed with rice or grouts, and stewed dried fruit are cooked. The Christmas fare provided at table includes also garlic, walnuts, honey, onion, summer fruit kept fresh, wine, brandy - everything that has been produced during the past year - fresh or processed. Wheat grains and the Ignazhden ring-shaped cake are also put on the table. In some places in Western Bulgaria, in the neighbourhood of Teteven, in the Plovdiv district, as well as in the Macedonian region unleavened bread with a silver coin in it used to be baked. Straw was spread under the table. Different objects were placed around the table - the thong of the plough, a mitten full of grains, a bowl of sand, a purse full of money, a sieve full of grains and a bunch of basil and garlic tied up to it with a red thread, a sickle. Only family members attended the Christmas Eve supper and it was necessarily censed. The eldest man or woman incensed first the table and then all the other premises in the house, as well as the courtyard and the cattle-shed. People believed that incensation drove the evil spirits away. The supper meal on Christmas Eve began early in order to make corn ripe early. People were not supposed to leave the table before finishing their meal - in order to make hens sit on their eggs and brood chickens. Only the head of the family was allowed to leave the table, but he had to bend when stepping - the way the crop was expected to bend with grain. The remaining bread was shelved - to have the crop grow high in summer. After supper the children rolled over on the straw on one side, so that the corn stems would weigh down. The walnuts, the wheat grains and the rest of the candle burnt at the Christmas Eve table were preserved for the next incensed nights. The fare itself, depending on the type of foods served, was commemorative. A place at the table was left vacant - for the dead (relatives or other dear people). The table was not cleared for the night because people believed that the deceased would come to supper. At the Christmas Eve table fortunes were told. Predictions were made for the weather in each month of the new year, for the expected crops, for each family member’s health, for the coming marriages of the girls. At midnight on Christmas carollers started their round. They visited the houses of their relatives, neighbours and other people in the village. Carol-singers were boys aged 8 to 12. These singing visits were called ‘carolling”. Each caroller carried a cornel stick. Carollers were heralds of carol-singers. Carollers’ songs were not exactly Christmas songs, but only short tunes and refrains. The mistress of the house had prepared (early in the morning) ring-shaped cakes and when carollers came, she gave them of these cakes together with dried pears, plums, apples, grapes, walnuts.
 


Our proposal for a Christmas Eve dish is to make a round loaf with a silver coin in it. The family member who gets the coin, will be healthy and lucky throughout the year.
 
 

ROUND LOAF
Ingredients 
  • 1 kg of flour
  • a cube of yeast, match-box sized
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of sugar
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 1 spoonful of vegetable oil
Directions:
    Sift the flour twice and make a “well” in it. Put there the yeast dissolved in a small quantity of water and the sugar. Add also the salt and make dough. Put a scalded silver coin in the middle of the bread. Bake it in a thinly buttered dish till it turns lightly red. Then spread sugared water on it and bake for ten minutes more.

Your main course could be meatless chomlek.
 
 

MEATLESS CHOMLEK
Ingredients 
  • 1 kg of small onions
  • 2 big onions
  • 1 coffee-cupful of vegetable oil
  • 4 red tomatoes - fresh or preserved
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 spoonful of flour
  • 1 teaspoonful of red pepper
  • 1 laurel leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of ground pepper, salt, savoury
  • 1 coffee-cupful of red wine
Directions:

    Cut up finely the big onions and stew them in the vegetable oil.
    When onions turn golden brown, add the red tomatoes - peeled and grated, together with the peeled small onions, the garlic cloves, chopped up, the red pepper, the pepper and the laurel leaf.

    Cover these products with water. Pour also the wine, add salt and the crumbled savoury. Stew on a slow fire.

    When onions become soft, add the flour. It has to be first roasted on a dry pan and then diluted with a coffee-cupful of tepid water. Stew again for ten minutes or so.

    The chomlek woul be much tastier if cooked in earthenware, and not in a modern-day pot. This dish is suitable for vegetarians and admirers of rich flavour cooking, since it  is well spiced. In both cases serve this fare only to people with a sound digestive system. Onion and garlic might irritate sensitive stomachs, although this food may be quite beneficial to others.


One other dish cooked for the Christmas Eve supper are cabbage leaves filled with rice and tomatoes. We should note here that the cabbage leaves used are pickled. In Bulgaria cabbage is pickled in a special way, adding sea-salt, and consumed in winter. If you have no pickled cabbage available, you can stuff dried or fresh peppers in the same mode.
 
 

STUFFED CABBAGE LEAVES
Ingredients
  • 10-15 pickled cabbage leaves
  • 4 onions
  • salt
  • 1 coffee-cupful of rice
  • 2 red tomatoes - fresh or preserved
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground savoury
  • 1 teaspoonful of ground pepper
  • 1 spoonful of cut up parsley
  • 2 dried red peppers
  • 2 fresh peppers (better red)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 1/2 coffee-cupfuls of vegetable oil
Directions:
    Chop up the onions, the fresh peppers and the carrot.
    Salt to suit your taste and brown the mixture in vegetable oil.

    When onion grows soft, add the rice, cleaned, washed and dried. Then add the tomatoes, peeled and grated, the pepper, the savoury and the minced parsley .

    Mix these products well. Then fill the cabbage leaves with it and wrap them tightly.

    Cover the bottom of the cooking pot with sauerkraut, arrange the stuffed leaves. In between insert the dried red peppers, previously steeped for 6 hours in cold water. Pour water and sauerkraut juice in equal proportions or warm water alone. The liquid has to cover the stuffed leaves.

    Stew on slow fire till stuffed leaves soften.
     



 

Boiled wheat is a must for Christmas Eve fare.
 

 

BOILED WHEAT
Ingredients
  • 2 teacupfuls of pounded (or unpounded) wheat
  • 3 coffee-cupfuls of sugar
  • 2 coffee-cupfuls of ground walnut kernels

Directions:

    Remove impurities from wheat and wash it.

    Pour cold water over it and boil till it grows soft. Then cover the pot, where the wheat has been boiled, with a twice fold towel and let it “swell”.

    Drain the remaining water. Mix the wheat with the sugar and the walnuts. It is preferable to use soft sugar. It will melt easier and faster.



 

Another sweet course on this day are walnut kernels prepared in a special way. Bake them and serve them to your guests. This is also a wonderful pastime snack to serve with liquor.
 

 

WALNUT KERNELS IN THE THRACIAN STYLE
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 teacupfuls of walnut kernels in whole pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • sugar to one’s liking

Directions:

    Beat the eggs with the sugar. Add the walnut kernels and mix well. Pour this mixture in a buttered baking dish.

    Bake in a moderately quick oven, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon.

    When the eggs stick to the kernels, take out the dish and let it cool.
     


In the days of Christmas in many parts of Bulgaria pumpkins are baked. A baked pumpkin makes an extraordinary and wholesome dessert preventing constipation.
 

 

“SWIFT PUMPKIN” DESSERT
Ingredients
  • a pumpkin weighing about 2 kg
  • 1 1/2 teacupfuls of powdered sugar

Directions:

    Cut the pumpkin in two halves. Remove its seeds and the fibrous stuff and put it in a baking dish.

    Bake in oven at moderate temperature and do not open oven before pumpkin is made ready.

    Then you have to sugar it - if served warm, sprinkle it with granulated sugar, if cool - use only soft sugar.



 

A typical Bulgarian compote prepared for the Christmas Eve meal is the oshav /stewed dried fruit/. It is a dish easy to prepare and strictly required by the feast diet.
 
 

STEWED DRIED FRUIT /OSHAV/
Ingredients
  • 3 teacupfuls of dried fruit - apricots, apples, plums, quinces
  • 3 coffee-cupfuls of granulated sugar

Directions:

    Wash the dried fruit well, soak it in cold water and let it remain there all night long.

    Then boil it in the same water until it becomes soft. Add sugar or honey - to your liking.


 

The Christmas Eve fare requires much time and a lot of efforts. However, you should know that before this festival women used to get up very early in the morning and were engaged in preparing the festive meals during the whole day. They spared no time and pains to be ready with everything and observe the tradition when Christmas Eve came. It is believed that the way Christmas Eve goes, is the way life during the following year will go. Therefore the whole family were involved in performing the rituals and preparing the dishes. Besides, there was no work to be done in the fields and everybody’s efforts were home-centred. And a festival as important as Christmas Eve deserves being celebrated in the proper manner.

 

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SOURCES OF REFERENCE:
Mantov, Dimiter. Folk Dishes from St. Dimitri’s to St. George’s Day. Svetulka 44 Publishing House, Sofia, 1997.
Arnaudov, M. Bulgarian Folk Festivals. Sofia, 1943.
Drazheva, R. Calendar Festivals and Customs.
Ethnography of Bulgaria, collective work, 1983.
Vassileva, M. Bulgarian Mythology.



The Bulgarian National Cuisine section is compiled and edited by Kaliroy Papadopoulou.