Easter Traditions in Bulgaria
Differences between the celebrations of the Catholic and Orthodox holidays have always been interesting. As an Orthodox Christian country, we’ve decided to show you some of the Bulgarian traditions and preparations for Easter.
The week before Easter is the Holy week and every day there is a special service at the churches. Friday is the darkest day remembering Jesus’ martyrdom and death. Christians go to the church bringing flowers like they are on a funeral. At the center of the church there is a table covered with the Jesus shroud and People pass under it. This is done as a symbol of honor, respect and reverence and it is believed to absolve your sins.
On Holy Saturday the service begins around 11 pm. During the service everyone is singing. Important tradition is that people go out and circle around the church with a candle in hand. This ritual is done for health. At midnight the priest stars singing that Christ has risen with which he announces that the Resurrection has happened. People take a candle with the holy fire and when they bring it home it means that they have brought light into their houses.
Dyeing the Eggs
The eggs are usually dyed on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday. The tradition dictated that the first egg have to be colored in red. Mothers touch the first born child’s forehead with it or make a cross on it for health and luck. It is probably believed that with the cross the child is watched by the saints. It is then put next to the icon where it stays until the next Easter, so that the whole house and its family members are healthy and protected throughout the whole year.
Some people draw a cross on the egg with wax or candle before putting it into the dye. Other popular pattern making is done by putting leaves with different shapes on the egg before dyeing it which makes abstract shapes. Years ago our grandmothers were dyeing eggs with natural ingredients to achieve the colors such as onion (yellow), smoke-tree (orange), spinach (green), beet (red).
Kozunak (kozunatsi – plular) is traditional sweet bread baked especially for the holiday. It is similar to the Christmas stollen in Germany, but more fluffy and with different fillings – from jam and chocolate to Turkish delight, almonds and all kinds of nuts according to the preferences and the taste. The most traditional one doesn’t include any fancy filling and is in the shape of a braid. It is baked on Holy Friday or Holy Saturday and the main ingredients are eggs, butter, milk, sugar and flour.
Apart from the sweat bread, a ritual round bread is made to be put on the table for lunch. It is a homemade, rustic type of bread and a red egg is put in the center of it. Once on the table, it is broken to pieces by hand (not cut with a knife) and divided according to the number of the family members.
Celebration and greetings
People gather together with their families and closest friends to celebrate with an Easter lunch and/or breakfast. After days of fast, all the prohibited foods are prepared and laid on the table. Eggs and kozunatsi are the most important things on the table. Traditional dishes include lamb (prepared in lots of different ways), green salads, potato salad, soups, chicken in white wine. The lamb symbolizes Jesus and it is a form of sacrifice.
Friends and neighbors exchange Easter eggs and an egg is given to every guest of the house.
Fun tradition is ‘egg wrestling’. We can call it a game, since there is a winner at the end. Everyone chooses an egg to play with and the opponents smash their eggs into each other. The broken one is the looser (and luckily get to eat the egg) and the one that remained unbroken is the winner who will be lucky the whole year!
On Easter people greet each other and send messages with wishes for health, luck and prosperity. The words are Hristos vozkrese (Christ has risen) and the response is Voistina vozkrese (He has risen indeed)!