Bulgarian Folk Festivals and Customs II


The last major winter holiday observed by the Bulgarian peasants was THE FIRST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT (seven weeks before Easter). From that day on, until autumn, when the field work was over, no marriages were allowed. The most important  custom of this week was the Mummers' performance - Koukerovden. It originated from the Dionysian festivities of the ancient Thracians and the ritual was associated with abundance in the broadest sense - from a barn full of wheat to a house full of children.

THE MUMMERS TRADITION (KOUKERI)

Koukerovden marks the beginning of the spring calendar. Preparations for its observance took a longer time. Everybody made himself his own mask competing to show greater personal skill and craftsmanship. Therefore, no two ritual masks were alike. The koukeri's masks and garments are colourful, covered with beads, ribbons, and woollen tassels. They are sometimes made of hides. The ritual has the characteristics of a theatrical performance, of a carnival. An important element of its is the symbolic ploughing and sowing - a token of a rich harvest. The heavy swaying movements of the leading mummer is meant to represent wheat heavy with grain, while the bells tied around the mummers' waists are intended to drive away evil forces and illness.


Koukeri

TODOROVDEN (St. Theodore's Day)

St. Theodore's Day is celebrated six days after Shrovetide. It is also known as "Horses' Easter" because of the horse races (kushii) commonly held on that day. According to folk tradition, the newly married women would make a ritual Theodore's round loaf of bread decorated with a dough-modelled image of a horse's head. Pieces of this bread used to be given out to neighbours or strangers by the women who would accompany the ritual with bouncing and neighing like mares.

The ancient roots of this folk festival lie in Thracian mythology. The horse is a sun symbol, while the horseman is known in the Bulgarian lands through the cult of the Thracian Horseman.

TRYPHON ZAREZAN
(Vinegrower's Day)

Tryphon Zarezan is celebrated in the first half of February. It is an old occupation-related custom. On this day, observed throughout the country, the vines are pruned and sprinkled with wine. Ritual songs and dances  are performed around an abundant spread, involving also many wishes for a plentiful harvest. In some areas, a Vine King is chosen and he is crowned with a wreath of wine twigs. Everybody treats him with great respect, for it is believed that fertility would depend on the King's well-being.

 

 The MARTENITSA Tradition (Baba Marta, Grandma Marta)

is a unique Bulgarian custom. It originates from the ancient Thracians. The earliest martenitsas were made of white and red woollen threads to which a silver or gold coin was occasionally tied. Other rituals observed on March 1 include women's dressing all over in red, in some regions, and in North-eastern Bulgaria the lady of the house used to toss a red cloth over a fruit tree or spread red wool onto a field to secure fertility. In stock-breeding areas, a white-and-red thread was commonly tied to the livestock. The tradition is still alive and widely respected: every year on March 1 Bulgarians present each other with martenitsas. Baba Marta's Day is celebrated as the name day of those called Martin, Martina, Marta, Dochka, Docho, Evdokia, Evdokim.

 

BLAGOVETS (Annunciation Day)

The festival of Blagovets, celebrated on 25 March, symbolizes the beginning of spring - swallows returning from the southern lands. Popular Christian mythology associates the day with the story of the Virgin Mary sitting in the garden and sewing, then leaning and smelling a sprig of basil and thus getting pregnant.

Being an ancient festival, Blagovets is laden with old-time rites shrouded in Popular Christianity . In the past, on the eve of Blagovets each housewife would sweep the yard, burn the rubbish and chant to the fire ablaze: "Run away, you snakes and lizards because Annunciation is coming!". In modern times, it is still a custom among Bulgarian housewives to clean their homes before Annunciation day.

Another tradition related to this day is observed to date in may places in Bulgaria - piercing the ears of young girls to put earrings as an indication that their childhood is over and they are to get on their mothers' road to maturity and begin to learn  how to cope with housework. For the first time, the girl in the family would bake a round loaf of bread. Young girls would also spread honey on their palms - in order to be sweet and attractive when they grow up and are ready for marriage.

Blagovets is celebrated as the name day of Blaga, Blago, Blagovest, Blagovesta.

LAZAROUVANE

This is an old custom typical of all regions on Lazaritsa - St Lazarus' Day, Saturday of Lazarus. It is of Slav origin and its symbolic meaning is associated with fertility, as well as with love and marriage. Particular attention was paid to dress: festive and beautiful, with superb heavy ornaments. The costumes are specially made for this festival and usually have many elements of bridal attire. The lazarouvane consists of a string of ritual games, dances and songs trained in advance by the young Lazarus girls (lazarki) during the long days of Lent. The maids would go round the neighbourhood and sing songs at each house wishing the people there rich crops and abundance.

The ritual's varieties are numerous, their differences lying in the celebration of Saint Lazarus' Day itself (eight days before Easter). The common tradition, however, is the coming out of marriageable girls. After taking part in the Lazaritsa dances the maid was allowed to start preparing for her wedding. A popular belief had it that a young man who had not been koledar or  kouker, and a maid who had not been lazarka should not get married.
Getting married and setting up a home has always been an essential part of the Bulgarians' mentality and way of life. In old times, people believed that the richer rituals devoted to marriage were a more powerful guarantee of happiness, long life and a house full of children.

Lazaritsa is the name day of people named Lazar, Lazarinka.

Lazarki

 

TSVETNITSA (PALM SUNDAY)

On the Sunday after Lazaritsa, the maids that had danced as lazarki would gather and go to the river. They would pick blossoming willow twigs and twine them into wreaths. That's how the present-day tradition of buying willow twigs and have them blessed at the church was born. It is still a common practice to fix willow twigs on the front door to ensure the good health and vigour of the family. On Tsvetnitsa people go to church carrying flowers and this particular custom has given the name of the festival.

Tsvetnitsa is celebrated as the name day of all those bearing names that correspond with the name of some flower.

 

EASTER

Easter is a mobile annual festival; the date of its observance is calculated on the lunar calendar. In the year 2001 Orthodox Easter is on 15 April, while in 2005 it is on May 1, and in 2006 - on April 23.
Easter is the most revered festival in the Church calendar of  Orthodox Christians. It is celebrated in the course of three days. Typical of this holiday is the dying of eggs. Eggs are dyed on Thursday or Saturday of the Holy Week. The eldest woman in the house has the privilege of dying the eggs. On Maundy Thursday loaves of bread are also made - both ritual and regular, as well as Easter cakes /kozunatzi/. The different kinds of ritual bread are called Lord's bread /bogovitza/, Easter ring-shaped buns /kravai/, or Easter rolls /kolatzi/. Making Easter cakes was introduced in Bulgaria as late as the 1920s, but nowadays it has a very important place in the Bulgarian people's customs.

Dying the eggs:
Each dye is mixed in a separate, new pot. The first egg to colour should be red. It is placed next to the home icon. In the past, women used natural pigments - infusions of walnut tree leaves, onion peelings (to dye yellow), blueberries (to dye purple), infusion of fir-cones (to dye beige), boiled beet (to dye red), corn-flower (to dye blue). Eggs are also decorated using various streaking techniques.

Decorated Easter eggs, Western Bulgaria, 19th century, National Museum of Ethnography

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