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St Trifon

In Bulgaria St Trifon day is celebrated on February 14th and this saint has more to do with wine than love - unless your love is wine! Forget Valentine's Day in Bulgaria, it exists and couples do exchange cards although this is a more recent tradition fuelled by western commercial influence.


St Trifon, the Pruner

The Orthodox Church celebrates St. Trifon as a martyr, who lived during the 3rd century and who was able to ask God to perform miracles to heal any kind of sickness even when he was a child. The Church celebrates this saint's day on February 1st but traditionally by the old calendar it was celebrated on February 14th. It continues to be celebrated on this day outside of any religious celebrations. Traditional folklore hails him as the patron saint of vine-growers, wine-producers and bar owners. The festivities on the Day of Trifon Zarezan mark the dividing line between the ending winter and the nearing spring. The transition between the two seasons stirs the fiercest conflict in the annual natural cycle - it is the transition between the dead winter season and the invigorating powers of the following seasons. That is why rituals are performed to strengthen and ensure a successful harvest. Through the rituals, man applies all means for encouraging nature.

On St. Trifon Day, a branch of vine is cut hence the nickname, the Pruner. The pagan celebrations stem back to the celebration of Dionysus the Greek god of wine. Folklore tells that wherever Dionysus appeared, the local Thracian population learnt how to grow healthy vines and produce good wine. He was tortured to death and beheaded for his Christian beliefs. However, these are not the only tales about Trifon; allegedly he once had his own vineyard, which he pruned conscientiously. Mary, Christs Mother passed Trifon's vineyard and he laughed at her, so she told him to cut off his nose with his pruning shears, which he did and from then on he was nicknamed "Trifon the Snub-nosed". Another nickname is "Trifon the Drunkard" because his vineyard produced such good wine and he drank it in vast quantities.

St Trifon Rituals

Across Bulgaria wine makers celebrate first by cutting the vines, which symbolizes the end of the winter. Women bake bread and roast chickens ready for the feast, which follows this ritual. The bread is a symbol of a productive pasture, and it is handed out to family, friends and neighbours. The men threaten the barren fruit-trees that they will chop them down to try and force them to be productive during the next season. Another man then promises on the trees behalf, that they will produce fruit during the coming spring and therefore they should not be hacked down. The male member of every household picks three burning coals from the fire, which represent the revitalizing power of the fire and the sun. Studying the hot coals tells people, which crops will be the most successful and fruitful in the year to come. In each town, the man who had the largest grape harvest is crowned King and he gets to wear a crown made from the fist cut vine. He is chauffeured from house to house on a horse-cart and encouraged to get drunk with his friends so that a copious harvest will follow in the coming year.

Perhaps the best place to celebrate St Trifon's Day is in one of the country's key wine villages like Melnik or Starossel. Celebrations in Starossel located in the foothills of the Sredna Gora Mountain, go back to Thracian times and archeologists have found much evidence of a thriving Thracian wine industry here - there is even a wine cellar at the base of an ancient Thracian temple. On Triffon Zarezan, villagers conduct the pruning ritual in the vineyards. This is the first work on the land of the New Year and marks the start of the new agricultural season. The newly clipped vines are then watered with lashings of good wine in the hope that this will encourage them to produce copious amounts of grapes. Villagers dressed in local costume carry loaves of freshly baked bread and there is dancing and singing but best of all there is much wine drinking, after all if lots of wine is poured and drunk on this day the more fertile the next harvest will be.

Happy St Trifon Day wine lovers!
Pictures of St Trifon courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis