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Easter Celebrations In Bulgaria

This year 2011 is unusual for countries like Bulgaria where the dominant religion is Orthodox Christianity as it falls on the same date as the Christian and catholic Easter, this only happens periodically.

It is one of the most important celebrations of the year and in the Orthodox Church calendar it is the most significant movable feast - movable because the date changes each year. The Bulgarian name for Easter is ‘Velikden,' which means ‘Great Day' and the Bulgarians certainly put a lot of effort into making it a large family celebration.


Easter Holidays in Bulgaria

Easter is celebrated over four days starting on Good Friday, which is called Razpeti Petak and means ‘Crucified Friday' until Easter Monday, which is a bank holiday with no religious significance. Good Friday is the start of the short Easter fast observed by those who are devout in the Orthodox faith. Fasting starts on Good Friday and continues through until midday on Easter Saturday, which in Bulgaria is called Strastnata Sabota or the ‘Saturday of Passion.' Many devout Christians will also have fasted throughout the period of Lent, which ended on Lazarus Saturday the week before. Bulgaria has many associated traditions and festivals to celebrate the fertility of the land as well as the Resurrection and some vary from region to region. Most are a combination of pagan and religious beliefs.

Bulgarian Celebrations

Bulgarian homes are often decorated with coloured eggs, at least one of which is always bright red to represent the blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross. Preparations for Easter start the week before with the boiling and painting of hen's eggs and baking of the traditional Easter bread ‘kozunak'. On Easter Saturday in the evening people go to church for a midnight service and they welcome each other with set phrases referring to the Resurrection such as "Christ is Risen," the response to this is "Indeed He is risen". They take their eggs and bread to be blessed and there is always a loaf made especially for the church, which is always decorated with an odd number of red eggs. After the services, the priest blesses the bread and everyone walks around the church three times with lighted candles; if your candle blows out, old traditions say that you have not been a good Christian during the last year. Of course such religious traditions do not take into account the strength or direction of the wind! After this ritual people smash their first egg of Easter against the church wall and this is the first food eaten after the short Easter fast.

Not everyone is devout in their religious beliefs, but all Bulgarians swap eggs and the sugar bread, kozanak, with friends and family on Easter Sunday. In the past it was a ritual to take eggs and bread to any Turkish members of the community because being Muslim, they would not have cause for celebration, however today, it is the children who catch everyone's attention by going from house to house collecting eggs and sugar bread and wishing health and happiness to everyone they meet. Another tradition is for married couples to visit the best man at their wedding, but most people invite close family members over for lunch and everyone taps eggs together for luck and exchanging the ‘Christ is Risen' greeting three times. The table is filled with goodies including roast lamb, drob, sarma, baklava and wine kebab. Most of all everyone you meet greets you with a Happy Easter, Chestit Velikden!

The Difference in Dates

It may seem odd that during other years the Orthodox celebration of Easter falls on a different date than it does in the rest of Europe despite the fact that the celebration still holds the same religious significance as it does in Europe marking the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reason why the Orthodox celebration does not coincide with the Easter celebrations across the rest of Europe is down to the fact that there are two different calendars in use. These are the modern Gregorian calendar, which is recognized worldwide as the official civil calendar and the old predecessor, the Julian calendar. Both calendars follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons. The Julian calendar was used from the days of the Roman Empire and was still in use in many countries including Bulgaria into the early 20th century. In Bulgaria the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1916, which brought it into line with the civil calendars of the rest of Europe, where many countries had been using the Gregorian calendar since the 18th century. With regards to Easter, Western Christianity calculates the dates of Easter each year based on the Gregorian calendar, whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church still calculates Easter according to the Julian calendar even though this calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar. Between 1900 and 2099, there is a difference of 13 days in the two calendars.