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Christmas 2017 and 2018

Although Bulgaria’s Christians are primarily Eastern Orthodox, since 1968, Bulgaria has celebrated Christmas on December 25th instead of on January 7th as in other Orthodox countries. This is because the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria switched from the Old to the Revised Julian Calendar, which follows the West’s Gregorian Calendar at many points.

201724 DecSunChristmas Eve
25 DecMonChristmas Day
26 DecTue2nd Day of Christmas
27 DecWedChristmas Holiday
201824 DecMonChristmas Eve
25 DecTueChristmas Day
26 DecWed2nd Day of Christmas

The Christmas season really begins with Advent, the 40-day period of fasting that commences in mid-November. The real highlight is Christmas Eve, and the season continues in some respects up until traditional Orthodox Christmas on January 7th.

A Bulgarian legend says that Mary actually gave birth to baby Jesus on Christmas Eve but did not announce his birth to the world until Christmas Day. The legend also claims that she was in labour for five days, beginning on December 20th, which is Saint Ignatius of Antioch Day and the traditional Bulgarian New Year.

On Christmas Eve, the Advent fast continues, but this does not stop Bulgarians from indulging in a large, festive feast. There are numerous dishes of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and breads, many of which are quite delicious.

There are a number of superstitions associated with Bulgarian Christmases. First, there must be an odd number of dishes and of people at the Christmas Eve table. Walnuts are consumed in great numbers, and the size and condition of the walnut you eat can predict your fortunes for the coming year. Also, a coin is baked into a Christmas load, and whoever gets the slice of bread containing the coin will have good luck. Straw under the tablecloth and a wooden plows behind your door are thought to encourage a good harvest in the year to come. Finally, the Christmas Eve dinner table must be left uncleared till morning so deceased relatives’ spirits can dine during the night if they so wish.

After dinner on the Eve, many Bulgarians will attend a midnight church service, and on Christmas Day, a second festive dinner is often eaten. This second meal will have meat as the main course, typically some kind of pork dish.

Should you visit Bulgaria in the month of December, here are some ideas on what to do:

  • Look for local Christmas carollers, called “koledari.” They will don cultural attire and travel from door to door, beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve. They are given special buns and pastries in return for their “singing services,” which are supposed to drive away evil spirits.
  • See Sofia, the capital, with its large lights display. In particular, visit the Sofia Christmas Market, which runs throughout December. It takes place in Borisova Gradina Park, and there are many stalls offering souvenirs and traditional Christmas foods. There are also many kids’ shows at the market.
  • Look for events involving the Bulgarian Yule Log, known as the “budnik.” Budnik traditions were once the most important part of Bulgarian  celebrations, though nowadays,  trees and “Father Christmas” are beginning to displace them. The budnik log is traditionally taken from an oak tree cut down on Christmas Eve and then laid on the Christmas fire, all amid much ceremony.
  • Enjoy a traditional “vegetarian” Bulgarian Christmas Eve dinner. At a restaurant or the home of a friend, you can taste such typical dishes as rice-stuffed peppers, rice-stuffed cabbage leaves, bean soup, dried apricots, plums, and oranges, a ring-shaped bread called “kolaks,” and cheese or pumpkin based pastries covered in syrup.

Bulgarians celebrate Christmas on the same day as those in the West, but they certainly keep in an Eastern European manner. Those who visit Bulgaria for Christmas will have no shortage of new  traditions to learn and enjoy.