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Orthodox Easter
Bulgaria

Orthodox Easter 2018 and 2019

In Bulgaria, Orthodox Easter is the most prominent day on the Christian calendar and is celebrated in a devoutly religious, if also somewhat superstitious, manner.

YearDateDayHoliday
20186 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
7 AprSatOrthodox Easter Saturday
8 AprSunOrthodox Easter Sunday
9 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday
201926 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
27 AprSatOrthodox Easter Saturday
28 AprSunOrthodox Easter Sunday
29 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday

About 75 percent of Bulgaria’s seven and a half million people are followers of Eastern Orthodoxy, which despite Bulgaria’s status as a “secular” state, is designated in the Bulgarian constitution as the “traditional religion” of the land. It is not uncommon for some Bulgarians to attend church services on a daily basis during Holy Week. The dates for Holy Week and Easter Sunday generally occur one week later in the Julian Calendar, used by Orthodox Christians, than in the Gregorian Calendar that Catholics and Protestants follow. The meaning, however, is the same- a remembrance of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church recognizes 46 days of Lent, which lead up to Easter Sunday. During this time, the observant refrain from the consumption of meat, fish, milk, cheese, butter, and all other animal-derived food products. An exception, however, is made on Palm Sunday, and fish is permitted on the menu. Throughout this period, you will see an abundance of breads baked in the shape of animals, including rabbit-shaped cookies, which seem to be an attempt to compensate for the temporary loss of meat.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, which in Bulgaria, is also sometimes called “Flower Day.” Since palm branches are not available, pussy-willow branches are often used as a replacement. They are carried to local churches and blessed by priests. In the case of young women, they are frequently formed into “crowns” that are worn to the church services and then tossed into a river in the hopes that their future husband will find it. Girls with “flower names” like Lilly, Rosa, and Violet also celebrate this day as their special “name day.”

Holy Thursday, for many, is “egg painting day.” The first Easter egg must be dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ, and it is then to be buried in a field to ensure fertility or stored in the house till next Easter to bring good fortune to the family. Many other eggs may be dyed this day as well, many of them also colored red and decorated with ornate crosses and other religious symbols.

On Holy Saturday, people go to a midnight church vigil, taking their Easter eggs along with them. The service begins at 11pm and continues until the stroke of midnight. At that moment, everyone greets each other with “Hristos vozkrese!” (Christ is risen!) and receives the traditional response “Voistina vozkrese!” (He is risen indeed!). Next, everyone goes outside and walks thrice around the church building while carrying lit candles. It is said that, if one has been a faithful Christian, his candle will certainly not be blown out by the wind- no matter how strong that wind may be. After these religious activities, the congregation then engages in an egg fight. Contestants try to use their Easter eggs to smash the shells of others’ eggs without breaking their own. The last person to keep their egg unbroken wins, and his Easter egg is kept on hand to produce a full year of good luck.

Easter Sunday is called “”Velikden,” meaning “the Great Day” because it is the culmination of Holy Week and of the Lenten season. This day is a day of feasting, and all the prohibited foods of the past 46 days are enjoyed. The main dinner is always lamb, representing the Lamb of God who died and rose again. The most attention, however, goes to the braided bread known as “kozunak“. This “Easter Loaf” is meant to represent Christ’s body and is eaten along with a red egg that symbolizes his blood. It is a semi-sweet raisin bread that is sometimes topped with sliced almonds.

While we have noted certain Bulgarian Easter superstitions already, there is one more that should not go unmentioned. This tradition says that, if you hear a cuckoo call halfway through the Lenten fast, it is a sign that spring is just around the corner. If the bird is heard while money is inprazour pocket, riches await you in the coming year, but if the cuckoo-call comes while you are hungry, you can expect to be poor that year.

Four major Easter time events that anyone visiting Bulgaria during the season should consider attending are:

  • The Easter Fair at the 16th-Century Troyan Monastery, which is situated in the northern mountain district. Not only can you see the monastery and attend temple services, but there is also a national arts and crafts exhibit to investigate.
  • Easter vigil services at the Cathedral of Alexandre Nevsky or the Church of St. Nicolas, both located in Sofia. The churches will be filled with incense, choir music will echo through the building, and the priests will be in their ornate, traditional attire. Later, the outdoor candle spectacles, ritual processions, and egg-smashing contests will be of great interest.
  • St. Lazar’s (Lazarus) Day activities in Etara. “Lazaruvane” celebrations welcome the coming of spring and occur only eight days prior to Easter Sunday. On this day, young girls go about the village, visiting homes and singing traditional folk songs. It was originally a rite of passage that indicated a young woman was ready for marriage.
  • The 1,000 Bulgarian Folk Costumes celebration in Razlog. Right around Easter time, the diverse folk traditions of Bulgaria are put on display for all to see. Beginning at 10:30am, costumed dancers perform at the Razlog city square, and the crowds learn to appreciate Bulgaria’s many cultural heritages.

Bulgaria offers much to tourists all year long, including top skiing locations, Black Sea resorts, Danube boat rides, and Roman ruins. By visiting Bulgaria around Easter time, however, the experience is enhanced yet more, as you learn how this holiday is celebrated in a culture that differs greatly from your own.