Official Holidays & Customs in Bulgaria
- 24 December – Christmas Eve (Budni vecher) – A holiday with centuries-old Christian traditions; it is celebrated on the eve before Christmas.
The table should be lavishly laden with meatless dishes like beans, oshav (dried fruits boiled with sugar), fruit, a bowl of boiled wheat with a candle in the middle of the plate, etc. There must also be freshly baked round bread with a coin inside to invoke prosperity for the family throughout the coming new year.
The tradition called 'koleduvane' (Christmas Carol Singing) starts on this day. The old custom says that young men and boys should visit the houses dressed in traditional clothes or like shepherds singing "tropara" – a holiday hymn.
This is the night when everyone prays for the best in the future.
- 25 December – Christmas /Koleda/. It is celebrated as in the rest of the Christian world but there are some typical Bulgarian customs and rituals related to the lifestyle of the people.
- 1 January – Vasil's Day /Survaki/. On this day everyone named Vasil, or similarly, celebrate their name. A typical Bulgarian custom is the one, when the householders get slapped on the back with a "survaknitsa" - a rod, cut from a cornel tree, adorned with strings of popcorn, dried fruit, bread rings, symbolizing the wishes for fertility and prosperity. Children, dressed in traditional clothes, go from house to house with these rods, singing songs special for the occasion, and wishing people good health, full sheep-pen, plenty of fruit in the gardens and happy days throughout the year.
- 6 January – Epiphany /Jordan's Day/ - The orthodox canon says that this day should be celebrated with a ritual involving water, in honour of the Jesus Christ's baptizing in the river Jordan. Following the ritual of baptizing in water, a priest throws a cross in the waters of the sea or in a river. Men jump into the freezing cold water to take the cross out. People believe that if the cross gets frozen in the water, the year will be prosperous, and people – healthy.
- 7 January – John's Day /Ivan's Day/. It is dedicated to the greatest of the prophets - John the Baptist, who zealously preached the coming of Jesus among the people. On Ivan's Day the celebrations and rituals, related to the belief in the miraculous power of water, continue. Women and men who got married in winter, men named Ivan, etc., get ritually washed. At lunch time the young families visit the witnesses to their weddings, bringing them cheese pastry (banitsa), rakiya, and wine. It is believed that this is the fraternization day; ritual fraternizations are carried out between friends, and at the end of the ritual the mother of the oldest one gives them a bunch of ivy and box shrub blessing them to remain as brothers for lifetime.
- 8 January – Midwife's Day /Babin Day/ – one of the greatest folk women's celebrations dedicated to "babite" – midwives, as well as to women who have already given birth. The rites are for showing respect to the elderly women who assisted at the time of birth. Before sunrise, the mothers of children between one and three years of age, go to get fresh water. Then they put a bunch of basil or geranium in it, take soap and a new towel and go to the midwife's house. A ritual of washing the midwife's hands is carried out usually in front of a fruit tree or in front of the house on the stairs.
Then the women give the midwife shirts, socks, towels as a gift and fling them over her right shoulder; in return the midwife gives gifts to the children at whose birth she assisted. The celebration goes on with a rich feast at the midwife's house where each mother brings wine or rakiya, flat round bread, cooked chicken, banitsa.
The evening ends up in the village centre where everyone joins for a ring dance –'horo'.
- 20 January, ROOSTER DAY /2 February as per the old calendar/ - The customs says that on this day a rooster is sacrificed. A bird is slaughtered in every house where boys and men live. Usually this is done at the house threshold which according to the people's beliefs separates the internal space already taken away from the wild nature outside. The rooster is slaughtered by a young boy who is still "clean", i.e. he has not had sexual contacts. With the blood a cross sign is marked on the foreheads of the boys in the house in order to be healthy throughout the year. Crosses are drawn also on the outside of the doors and gates. Each household cooks a dish with the slaughtered rooster that must be boiled or roasted whole. The mothers give away some of the ritual dish together with bread rings, banitsa, etc. to relatives and neighbours for the good health of the boys.
This custom is also spread within the country for one more reason: during the Ottoman yoke the Turks kidnapped Bulgarian boys and turned them into enichari (elite Turkish army where the soldiers were taught fighting skills since childhood; notorious for their atrocities). The Turks put red signs on the gates of the houses where boys were kidnapped from. A legend says that an old lady hid her grandson, slaughtered a rooster and drew the sign on the gate. She managed to mislead the Turks and saved the child from being converted into a Muslim. Since then there has been a custom a rooster to be killed by an elderly woman in the house for the good health of the boys and protecting them from trouble.
- 1 February – TRIFON ZAREZAN – The Orthodox calendar celebrates St.Martyr Trifon and the folk custom calls it 'Trifon the Drunkard' due to the legend about the saint who cut off his nose while he was trimming the vines. Since old times, the Bulgarians have been honouring this day and the saint as a patron of vine-growing and wine-making. The men ritually trim the vines, while very early in the morning the women make bread richly decorated with dough vines and bunch of grapes. Having cut off the first three wands from the vine, the men pour some red wine, sanctified water and ashes from the Christmas Eve on the spot.
Then the vine trimming starts and later it ends up with a noisy revelry and plenty of wine. The men elect a 'Tsar' and on his head they put a crown of vine wands cut off at the very beginning. The 'Tsar' blesses the vines to be more fertile and the wine to become better.
In the evening the 'Tsar' invites all men at his home where his wife has lavishly covered the table. It is believed that if the Tsar and the other men do no drink enough, the vines will not give enough grapes.
- 1 March – BABA MARTA. A typical Bulgarian folk holiday. Martenitsi are prepared in advance for this day. They are made of twisted red and white woolen threads (could be red and white tassels, or a male and a female figures made of threads called Pijo and Penda) symbolizing cleanness, health, strength. As per an old custom, on 1st March the martenitsi are tied on the wrists of children, married and unmarried women, on the necks of small animals and on fruit trees with a message for health and fertility. The martenitsi should be worn until the first storks and sparrows appear.
- 3 March – National Holiday of Bulgaria. The Liberation of the country from the Ottoman rule is commemorated on this day.
- 8 March – Women's Day
- 22 March – First Spring
- LAZAROV DEN – It is celebrated on the last but one Saturday. Girls, dressed in traditional clothes and carrying flowers, go from house to house, dance and sing ritual songs for health and prosperity.
- TSVETNITSA (Flowers' Day; Palm's Day) – the Sunday before Easter. People go to the church carrying young willow twigs and get them sanctified by the priest. Then people put them on the gates of their houses.
- EASTER – It is celebrated as in the whole Christian world: eggs are coloured (according to the customs the kids should have "egg fights" and whoever's egg remains unbroken will be the strongest one during the year), Easter bread is baked.
- 1 May – Labour Day
- 6 May – St.George the Victorious /Gergyovden/; the Bulgarian Army Day
- 24 May – the Slavic Writing and Culture Day, dedicated to the brothers Cyril and Methodius and their great work
- 1 June – Child's Day
- 24 June – Enyovden /The Orthodox calendar celebrates the birth of John the Baptist/. This Bulgarian folk holiday is related to the day of the summer solstice. Some rite elements of the pagan cult to the Sun are typical for it, e.g. lighting bonfires, bathing at sunrise, picking up herbs early in the morning for which it is believed to have miraculous and curative power if picked up then.
- 6 September – The Unification of Bulgaria, National Holiday
- 22 September – The Bulgarian Independence Day
- 26 October– DIMITROV DEN
- 8 November – ARCHANGELOV DEN
- 6 December – NIKULDEN – The Orthodox calendar honours St.Nikolay Chudotvorets ("miracle maker") on this day. It is celebrated in every Bulgarian home and there must be ritual stuffed carp cooked for health and protection of all sailors' and fishermen's lives.