Traditions & NameDays

VASSILYOVDEN/VASSILEVDEN (St. Vasilij os St. Basil, the Great) - January 1

Name day of everyone named Vassil, Vassilka, Vassilena, Vesselina, Vesselin, Vessela, Vessie, Veska, Vulko (the name"Vassiliy" has the meaning of "regal" in Greek).

On January 1st, the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates St. Vassilij the Great (or as in the Greek calendar, St.Basil), who lived around 330-379. Being a bishop in the Caesar’s territory of Capadocia (today’s Asia Minor), he fought against  the movements denying Jesus Christ’s divine origin, and he succeeded in imposing the principles of the Orthodox Christianity to a large part of the Roman Empire territories. It was him who popularized the ideas of “active forgiveness” and “doing good deeds as an implementation of Christ’s concept of love and forgiveness”. He used to be called “the Great” long before his death. He was canonized as a saint, and the day of his death (January 1st) has been celebrated each year ever since.

Bulgarians celebrate the first day of the New Year by a large number of traditional rituals. The most popular among them is the “sourvakane” - tapping the back of each member of the family by means of a specially decorated cornel-tree twig called "sourvaknitza" - for health and good luck. In mythology the cornel-tree stands for the live power of the good forces. On this day, people in masks, called "sourvakari" (also "camilari", "babougeri", "startzi" and "djamali") visit peoples' homes and give blessings for health and fertility.

The “Sourvakane” ritual:

Bulgarians call the New Year’s Day by all kinds of names – “Sourvaki”,  “Souroka”, “Vassilitza” or “Sourozdru”. On the eve of the feast the family gathers round the table, piled with all kinds of dishes - everything that the family had wished to have throughout the year. The mistress of the house should smoke four grains of incense over the ploughshare and by circular motions from left to right she smokes over the whole table, so that evil spirits should fly away. Then she turns three times the pan with the large pastry (the so-called “banitsa’) in which she had put  the silver coin and the luck-wishing pieces (called "kusmets"), made of small pieces of paper woven around cornel-tree buds. Each member of the family is quick to take their piece in order to see the respective prediction for luck for the year to come. Next morning, very early, the children go around from house to house and tap everybody on the back with beautifully decorated cornel twigs called “sourvachka”, pronouncing the blessing:

“Sourva, sourva, the year, merry and prosperous year!
Lots of wheat in the field, red apples in the orchard,
Gold coin in the cupboard, large grapes on the vine,
Hives full of honey, young chickens everywhere!
May you be alive and healthy this year and forever!"

The traditional concept and the ritual function of the New Year “sourvachka” cornel twigs has always been connected to mythological culture - the myth presents the sourva-twig as a form of the “Tree of the World”, and the “sourvakari” boys as the mediators between the different worlds that predetermine future prosperity.

After the sourva ritual, toward evening, the houses are visited by young men, disguised in a “camel” or “djamalo” – their function is to wish health and fertility to the hosts during the coming year. The man who defines the directions the “djamalo” takes pronounces the following blessing:

“May there be joy and prosperity where the djamalo sets its foot!
May people be as strong as my mace!
May children be as many as the bees in the hive! “

Then the djamalo “dies” symbolically, so that evil in the house also dies, and “comes to life” again, symbolising nature waking up again to give more prosperity to people. In return for their vivid performance – a true verbal and imitative magic, the young men receive food, money and a good treat.