The calendar of holidays embodies the national and regional characteristics and the traditions that have been preserved throughout the centuries. The system of holidays and rituals that has been kept in the Rodopean chitalishta contains many pagan elements. The interlinking of the Christianity with such pagan ritual elements is one of the factors that have contributed to save the Bulgarian people and nation throughout difficult historical moments.
It is believed that the dreams one have during the Christmas night are of prophecy character. The people judge what the coming year would be based on the contents of their dreams. Also the uneaten part of the special dinner prepared for and served during the Christmas Eve (“Badni vecher”) evening has to remain on the table all night long; it is believed that the Holy Mother of God pays a visit in the night, so there should be food on the table for her to eat.
The Day of Saint Jordan (“Voditsi”)
It is a day when the water plays a significant role in all the rituals. The tradition is linked to the act of Baptism. Each year a crucifix is thrown into the local river and the bravest men of the community jump into the water competing who is to find the crucifix first. It is believed that the victor will enjoy lots of health, good fortune and happiness during the year.
The week of the evil creatures (“Poganowa nedelya”)
The days between 12th of January – 18th of January is known as the week of the evil creatures (“Poganowa nedelya”). The period has the reputation to be a bad one and the people, especially women have to avoid certain domestic activities in order not to awaken the evil creatures and the bad luck.
Dogs Monday (“Pesponedelnik”)
The ritual “Kukeri” is ancient old. Kukeri are usually men wearing a scary costumes and masks made out of animal fur and big noisy bells on his belt, although women could also mask and participate in the ritual games in some regions. The earsplitting noise of the bells and the frightening costumes and masks are meant to chase away the bad spirits of the winter. The participants dance and walk around the market place and the houses of the people. The mascaraed games are organized during the months February and March.
The tradition is to colour boiled eggs and bake special traditional sweet bread on the Thursday before Easter. Those preparations are part of the special Easter dinner.
Day of Saint George (“Gergiovden”)
The Day of Saint George is celebrated on 6th of May and it is one of the major religious holidays in Bulgaria. One is supposed to get up early in the morning in order to be vital and “awake” throughout the whole year. Upon the sunrise people go to the river and wash their faces with the water. Alternatively the washing is done with dew from the plants in the gardens or fields. It is believed to be a ritual for health, and also in the case of women the ritual is supposed to make them more beautiful.
There are interesting variations of the rituals during the Day of Saint George. For example in some settlements people would put out the fires in the house. After that they would gather all their domestic animals and make them pass through the living embers, which symbolize the sun.
Day of Saint Konstantin and Saint Elena (“Predoy”)
It is the day when the little lambs are separated from their mother sheep. The shepherds gather and lead the sheep to the grassing land and start milking the sheep to produce dairy products.
If one is to make categorization of the rituals that are part of each and every holiday, the grouping will be as follows:
- Rituals meant to bring good health for people and domestic animals. For example: picking flowers and making of bouquets of geranium and nettle; washing with dew at the sunrise;
- Rituals with courting elements related to future weddings. For example: cradling of the beloved one; sinking of flower bouquet in water during the night in order to predict who of the young women is to marry first; ritual “stealing” of the future bride from her family; ritual buying–out the bride-to-be by paying her father or brother money; various wedding games and dances.
- Rituals linked to marriage and the birth of a child meant to secure good health and prosperity for mother and child.
The rituals and the ritual practices could be separated into two groups.
The first group contains protective rituals like different bans liked to pregnancy and the pregnant women herself. There is a system of magical actions also that should be implemented in case a ban has not been respected and followed.
The second group of rituals is linked to the usage of special magical objects. Those are the so called productive rituals. They are based on the belief that the child will acquire certain qualities/traits if a specific ritual is done.
The traditional rituals and holidays preserved and practiced in the chitalishta in the Region of Smolyan are part of the traditional Bulgarian folklore culture, which has been formed throughout the centuries. It contains elements typical for the Slavic and Proto-Bulgarians communities and tribes, as well as characteristic for the pagan Thracian tribes of the ancient times.
Head of Regional Expert Consultancy Centre “Chitalishta” – Region of22