It’s hard to meet a Bulgarian who does not know the corresponding Saints day of his own name. This Saints day is his or her name day. A name day is as important as ones birthday. People really are happy when in some way or another they receive congratulations even by sms, phone-call or Facebook. Many will treat at work or even have a party the same evening for celebration.
Here a list with dates and names of the most important name days including some other traditional Eastern European and specific Bulgarian folklore.
1st January St.Vasil’s Day
Vasilyovden is a feast characterized by rich ritualism. The ritual table is teem with meat dishes – baked pork , banitsa, and round loaf in which a coin or cornel-tree sprigs put in like in fortune-cookies, for everyone in the household – the domestic animals, the health of the members of the family, the house. Immutable dishes on the table like hen, honey cake, boiled wheat and walnuts.
It is a name-day for everyone named Vasil, Vasilena or Veselin.
6th January Yordanovden (St. Jordan’s Day)
According to Christianity this day celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River and is one of the greatest and solemn of the calendar of saints’. It is a day of enlightenment and light, vodosvet -water is blessed and after the ritual the priest throws the cross in the river or the sea. The men at the bridge dive after the cross to draw it out from the cold water. People believe that if the cross freezes in the water the year will be fertile and the people will be healthy.
The feast is a name-day for those called Yordan, Yordanka, Yovo etc.
7th January Ivanovden
The name “Ivan” comes from Old-Bulgarian and means “God is merciful”. Ivanovden (Ivan’s Day) is a religious holiday celebrated in honor of Sveti Yoan Krastitel (John the Baptist).
According to folk beliefs Sveti Yoan is a protector of the godfather and the brotherhood. It is a custom a newly married couple to visit their best man and bring him banitsa, ring-shaped bun, baked pork meat and wine.
The feast table is set with boiled wheat, beans, dried fruits and pork.
People who carry names like Ivan, Ivanka, Ivaylo, Yoan celebrate their name-day.
8th of January Babinden
Babinden is not a name day but a woman’s folk feast dedicated to the “babi”- (older women) the women, who help with the childbirth to the young brides.
The ritualism of that day is mainly connected to the will of expressing the gratitude to those old women who help for a new life to come into the world. The young women visiting the “babi” and bring them wine, banitsa and pita (a round loaf). This is a heathen custom, dating back to the old Slavs.
Despite of the loss of some of the traditional rituals it still survives and Babinden day is a day with lots of fun and laughter.
17th January Antonovden (Anton’s Day)
On 17th January the Bulgarians celebrate Antonovden – a day devoted to protection from diseases. Women usually bake ritual bread, spread with honey and give it away to neighbours and friends for health. It is a superstitious tradition that women avoid domestic work also with the purpose of protecting of diseases. The name “Anton” comes from Roman language and means “invaluable”.
It is a name-day for those whose names are Antonia, Anton, Antoaneta, Toni and etc.
18th January Atanasovden (Atanas’s Day)
The 18th January is a Christian holiday in honor of saint Atanas. In traditional beliefs he is the ruler of snow and ice. This is the day when winter begins slowly to go away. Atanasovden is a holiday of smiths, farriers, blacksmiths and cutlers.
On that day it is a tradition for women to knead ritual breads to protect the children from measles. At some places in Bulgaria women slaughter a black hen or a chicken and give it away to friends and neighbours for health. The feathers of the sacrificed animal are kept somewhere in the house because it is believed that they have healing powers.
14th February Trifon Zarezan
For the rest of the World a day of romance here in Eastern Europe something totally different and like Babinden not a name day. Sveti Trifon (St. Trifon) is known as the patron of the vineyards all over the Balkans . The holiday derives from the Dionisian Celebrations in ancient Greece. Early in the morning every wine-grower goes to his vineyard, turns to the east and makes the sign of the cross. Afterwards he cuts three sprigs from three different vines and waters the spot with wine, holy water and ash, kept from the Christmas fire. It is done for rich harvest. These springs are kept in front of the icon in the house. In the evening all the men of the village sit together around the ritual table in the vineyards and celebrate the day with lots of wine. In some regions the men dig a hole in the middle of the vineyard and bury a bottle of holy water in it for prevention of hailstorms. The feast is also known as “Trifon the Drunkard” because of the large amount of wine being drunk that day.
1st March Baba Marta
Baba Marta is a tradition known and celebrated only in Bulgaria .People give each other martenitsi, little red and white tassels that are worn for health and happiness. In different regions they can also be other colors. The Bulgarians tide martenitsa around their wrists or put it on their clothes and congratulate one another with “Chestita Baba Marta!” People wear martenitsi until the first stroke comes and after that they put them on a fruit tree. That’s an ancient Bulgarian custom, symbolizing the end of the winter and the beginning of spring.
Lazarovden on the Saturday before Easter
Lazarovden is always on the last Saturday before Orthodox Easter. In folk traditions the main ritual is lazaruvane – in which take part lasses (called lazarki) who prepare the feast long before its beginning. A girl, who didn’t take part in the lazaruvane has no “right” of being ready for marriage. The girls go from house to house singing songs for every one of the household- for the housewife, the children, the householder and etc. According to the tradition the housewife gives them eggs for health and fertility. In the evening the young people go to the village square and chose the most beautiful girl of the village.
Tsvetnitsa is a movable holiday which is one week before Easter. It is a national feast, connected to many ancient spring rituals for rain, health and fertility. People go to church and after the solemn service take sanctified willow sprigs and bring them in their homes, twine a wreath and put it on the front door for protecting from diseases and bad luck. Another tradition is buying a new pottery every year and a flower for luck. Tsvetnitsa is a name-day for everyone called after a tree, a flower or a bush.
6th May Gergyovden
Together with Easter this is one of the biggest spring holidays in Bulgaria. It is celebrated in honor of Sveti Georgi Pobedonosets, who is the patron saint of the shepherds and herds. The traditional dish lamb lamb from the brabeque. The ritual probably comes from the heathen sacrificial rituals. Other dishes are ritual round-loaf, lettuce salad and fresh garlic as a garnish for the lamb, and of course the national Bulgarian drink – rakia Gergyovden is an official Bulgarian holiday, and is also a day of the Bulgarian Army.
Gergyovden is probably the most popular name-day in Bulgaria – over a half of the Bulgarian men have St. Georgi’s name.
21st May Sveti Konstantin and Elena
According to the national traditions “St. St. Konstantin and Elena” is famous for nestinarstvo (fire dancing, still in practice in several places in Bulgaria, but mainly as an attraction. The holiday marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. This is the time for assuring the fertility and health through magical rites. The ritual practices, which in the old days have been directed to the deities of the Sun and the Fire nowadays pass under the “patronage” of the saints Konstantin and Elena. Nestinarite (the fire-dancers) are mediators between the celestial and the material world, between the gods and people. They are the “bridge” between life and death.
24th June Enyovden
Enyovden is the longest day of the year. According to the legends the night before Enyovden is a night of magic – stars come down close to earth and “bless” the herbs and flowers with healing forces which disappear with the coming of the first sunbeams. That’s why the healers and herbalists gather the herbs before sunrise. At midnight believe goes that the sky “opens” for superstitious forces and all nature looks forward the sunrise. On Enyovden people make rituals for prediction about health, marriage and fertility. The church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist.
29th June Petrovden
According to the Christian calendar of saints 29th June is in honor of St. Peter and Paul. In Bulgarian traditions this day is the end of the Lent, therefore the housewives slaughter a chicken and give it away to friends and neighbours for health. In some regions people organize fairs, women knead ritual breads and pick and eat apples called petrovki as a commemoration of the dead. Petrovden is a name-day for Petar, Pavlina, Petya, Polina and etc.
15th July Golyama Bogoroditsa
“The Assumption” is an especially esteemed holiday, devoted to Virgin Mary who is the patron of home, motherhood and women. On this day women knead ritual bread and give it away for health. They do not sew, weave and do any work. They pray to the Holy Mother for health, fertility and happiness for them and their children. Grapes, watermelon, apples and other fruits are also given away for health. In some places people make an offer by slaughtering a sacrificial animal. The ritual table is plentiful with round bread, fruits, chicken dishes, boiled wheat and baked pumpkin.
It is a name-day of all women named after Virgin Mary – Maria, Mara, Mariana etc.
8th September Malka Bogoroditsa
The birth of Virgin Mary is just three weeks after the holiday marking her death. Young women pray for conception, easy labor and good children. In honor of Virgin Mary they make ritual bread called “Bogorodichna pita” (Virgin Mary’s round loaf) and break it to pieces, which give away to the members of the family. In some places in Bulgaria there is the tradition of slaughtering a sacrificial ram.
17th SeptemberVyara, Nadezhda, Lyubov
The 17th September is a Christian holiday dedicated to the saints Vyara, Nadezdha and Lyubov, and their mother-Sofia. In Bulgarian language the names mean Faith (Vyara), Hope (Nadezhda) and Love (Lyubov, and their mother Sofia (Wisdom). The main religious virtues are named after them. People who with such name celebrate their name-day the same way . This date is the official holiday for the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia.
14th October Petkovden
It is a folk holiday connected to some pre-Christian elements. The typical rituals for that day are attended to stock-breeding. During this time women do not work for healthy livestock. There are offerings made, and women give away ritual breads, wine and rakia. All the family gathers together around the table which first is incensed and blessed by a priest.
The 1st November is officially established as a public holiday. At that day the Bulgarians stand in memory of the Leaders of the National Revival.
The day is the official holiday for all the schools in Bulgaria.
The National Revival is a period when Bulgarians gathered spiritual and intellectual strength to establish their right of independent political and social existence, and their own culture and education. The most famous leaders of the National Revival are St. Paisij Hilendarski, Ivan Vazov, St. Ivan Rilski, Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev, Lyuben Karavelov and many more.
6th December Nikulden
Nikulden is one of the biggest family holidays. The holiday is devoted to St. Nikola – the patron of the sea, the sailors and the fishermen. Bankers and tradesmen also regard him as their patron. An immutable part of the ritual table is fish. While cleaning it the woman’s mind not to drop the scales on the floor because it is believed that if someone steps over them he/she gets sick and dies. Fish bones are burned and put into a hole in the ground. One of them is sewn in children’s hats for health and protection against “evil eye”. Usually the fish which is prepared is carp because according to folk beliefs the carp is the “St. Nikola’s servant”. The legend read that when St. Nikola put out to sea a storm came up and twisted the boat. Then St. Nikola grabbed a carp and plugged up the gaps with it thus he and his fellow-travelers were saved. The ritual breads baked in honor of the saint are called “kravai”. “Nikulski hlyab” (Nikulski bread), ribnik and etc. For dinner is served baked carp filled with walnuts and raisins. It is first censed before eating. “Ribnik” is carp baked covered by dough All day long the table is ready for guests. Besides bread and fish there are beans, stuffed vine leaves and other meatless dishes.
20th December Ignazhden
People believe that on Ignazden begin the New Year and Christmas holidays. In Eastern Bulgaria on Ignazhden is the first of the Christmas dinners. The dishes are completely meatless. The holiday is mostly popular with the ritual “polazvane”. According to folk beliefs, the first visitor in the house (polaznik) is very important because on him /her depends what the following year will be. If the person is lucky, healthy and good, the family will be lucky and healthy through the year. If he is not, there will be a bad year for the household. If the “polaznik“ is good he/she is showered with wheat and dried fruits for rich harvest. The family gives him/her presents such as hand-knitted socks, wool or a shirt. .If the “polaznik” is an animal it is a good sign. People give the animal bread as an expression of their gratitude for the good omen. The ritual table is plentiful of oshav ( dried fruits compote), boiled corn, wheat, stewed beans, walnuts, cabbage, garlic, onion, a round loaf baked without leaven, potatoes etc.
24th December Badni Vecher
Christmas holiday start on 24th December and lasts till Stefanovden (27th December). Christmas Eve for most people is a bigger fete then the Christmas itself because that’s the night when Jesus was born. “Badni vecher” is the first of the Christmas nights. The main “roles” in the festive night are assigned for “badnik”, the ritual table and the Christmas meals. “Badnik” is an oak or a pear tree, cut down by a young man for keeping the fire in the fireplace all night long. The dinner is festal. The table is elongated in contrast to the round table typical for other rites. On the table are set not only ritual breads, but meatless meals like beans, stuffed vine leaves filled with rice and wheat, stuffed peppers, pumpkin pastry, boiled corn, walnuts, etc. As a rule the dishes are an odd number – seven, nine, and so on. On the table are set rakia, red wine, oshav (dry fruits compote). After the whole family gathers together around the table, nobody stands up until the end of the dinner. If something is needed, the oldest man of the household brings it by walking bowed down for the wheat to be “stooped” with grains. The table stays set all night long because it is believed that the dead come for dinner.
25th December Koleda
Koleda (Christmas) is a continuation of Christmas Eve – the last day of the Long Lent and starts in midnight with a ritual called Koleduvane. In Koleduvane take part newly married, young men and fiances called Koledari. The preparation begins from Ignazhden (20th December) – they study the Christmas songs, form the Christmas groups of Koledari, set the leaders of the groups. The time for Koleduvane is strictly determined by the tradition – from midnight until sunrise on Christmas day. At the same time it is believed that supernatural creatures –vampires, ghouls and goblins come out and walk around. The Koledari, chase them up through the ritual songs. During the night they go from house to house, sing songs wishing health, happiness and rich harvest. The householders give them ritual breads, called kravai (ring-shaped bun). It is a tradition on Christmas day a pig to be slaughtered. Women knead ritual bread with a coin put into it. The one who takes the piece with the coin will be healthy and lucky through the year. The table stays set all day long, ready for everyone who visits the family. Another symbol of Christmas is the Christmas tree. On the eve of Christmas the family takes part in the decoration of the tree – garlands, silver balls, angels and many fairy lights are put on it.
Happy holidays in Bulgaria!