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St George's Day

 

At this time of year Bulgarian life feels like one big party, thanks to the mass of name days and public holidays all of which hold special meaning and carry various cultural traditions with them.

Today, May 6, Bulgaria celebrates the country’s most widely celebrated name day, St George’s Day. Everyone whether new or long time resident in the country knows a Georgi – it is Bulgaria’s most popular man’s name, but it is not thanks to the abundance of George’s that this day is also a public holiday.

 

Day of the Bulgarian Army

May 6 was made an official public holiday in 1880 by Alexander of Battenburg. The holiday was declared to celebrate the Bulgarian army’s victories in the Liberation War against the Ottoman Turks. The Bulgarians scored victories at Slivnitsa, Edirne, Doyran and Stratsin amongst others. During the Communist regime the holiday was cancelled but reinstated in1993. The Day of the Bulgarian Army is celebrated with military parades in the capital. This year there will be a music festival given by military bands from over 14 countries.

St George’s Day Celebrations

St George’s Day is dedicated to all those Bulgarians called Georgi and those with names that are derivatives of this, namely Gergana, Ginka, Galya, Ganka and Gancho. In the past, young villagers would make wreathes from healthy green leaves and flowers and then give them to the shepherd and place them on the heads of the lambs as well as their own heads; one was always placed on the churn, which would catch the first drops of sheep’s milk that day. The wreaths symbolized strength and energy. At the old George’s Day celebrations girls who married in the bleak winter months would wear a costume designated for married women and this was to show that they had adopted their duties and were ready to bring new life into their family. Young people who had fallen in live would declare their feelings for each other at the party and as a sign of engagement; they exchanged a posy of flowers.

One of the most common traditions still alive today is to cook a stuffed lamb and in places like the Rhodope Mountains, this is roasted in the ground. This ancient practice is believed to have originated from some kind of Slavic pagan sacrificial ceremony and the fact that St George is the patron saint of shepherds. Whilst the lamb is cooking Bulgarians party drinking lots of rakiya and wine; they sing many folk songs dedicated to St George, but truthfully the celebration is becoming more of a modern party. It is also customary that you can drop into any party of a George or George-derivative and join in the celebrations without invitation.

 

 

The Real St George

St George’s Day has been celebrated by the Orthodox Church for centuries, but the saint it honours was not Bulgarian. The traditional legend tells of George's encounter with a dragon. This myth originated at the time of the crusades and was retold among the courts and palaces with much elaboration typical of the Romance era. However, the real St George is believed to have been born in Lydda, Palestine to Christian aristocrats around 275 AD (although no-one can be precise on this date). His father Geronzio was a Roman army official from Cappadocia and his mother a local of Palestine. They both belonged to the noble families of Anici (which means "can not be defeated") and raised their son in the Christian faith naming him George, which meant "worker of the land." George’s parents died when he was in his teens and this spurred him to go to Nicomedeia, the capital city at that time to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a soldier in Emperor Diocletian’s army. Diocletian regarded George’s father with much respect as he had been one of his finest soldiers and to this end he welcomed George with open arms. George too became a fine soldier and by the time he was in his late twenties he was promoted to the rank of Tribune and employed as one of the Emperor’s imperial guards.In 302 AD, Diocletian issued an order stating that every Christian soldier should be arrested and forced to offer a sacrifice to the Pagan gods. George objected and with the courage of his faith confronted the Emperor. Diocletian did not want to lose one of his best soldiers so he tried to bribe George by offering him land and money if he denounced his faith. Of course, George would not be swayed leaving Diocletian no choice but to condemn him to death for his defiance. George gave everything he had to the poor before he died and after brutal torture he was decapitated in front of the city wall, on April 23, 303. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.