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BADNI VECHER (CHRISTMAS EVE) - December 24


Name day for everyone named Evgeni, Evgenia, Bisser, Bissera, Bistra, Bozhin, Bozhana.

According to Bulgarian tradition, the Christmas celebrations start on December 24th, called “Badni Vecher” (meaning Christmas Eve, or Small Christmas). Carol singers, or as they are called in Bulgarian “koledari”, start visiting around. Only young boys are allowed to participate in the caroling. With cornel-tree sticks called “koledarki” and bags in their hands they knock around on people’s doors, singing “God was born”. The hostess welcomes them and gives them special ring-shaped buns, walnuts, piece of bacon or sausage.

The adult “koledari” (carol singers) start going around after dinner. They gather in groups of around ten people, one of which is the leader – he should be experienced and accustomed to Christmas blessings and all the carol songs, which at places could be as many as 80 altogether! The carol singers go around during night – so that “the Sun should never reach them when  on the roads”… They sing “The House Song” – a song meant to praise the well-being of the house and all the children in there, as well as to bring health to everyone. The hosts give the carol singers some money, a Christmas bun, some bacon and white cheese, and other goodies as well.

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People used to place a thick log, called “badnik”, in their fire on the Christmas Eve – it was supposed to keep the fire going for the whole night. The Christmas celebrations continue until St. Stephen’s Day, December 27th. All through these three days, according to Bulgarian national traditions, it is considered a serious sin if one works – it is time to celebrate the birth of God.

Ritual table: 7, 9 or 11 meatless dishes, usually beans soup, cabbage leaves or peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat, pumpkin pastry, dried plums, garlic, honey, walnuts, wheat, fruit, rite bread, cheese pastry, cabbage pastry. The hosts seek to put on the table an item of everything they have produced during the year.

Odd number of meatless/vegetable dishes (five, seven or nine) should be present on the table of each Bulgarian home on the Christmas Eve, when according to the legend the Holy Mother started giving birth to Jesus. The dinner starts with the incensation of the whole house so that all evil spirits are chased away. A wooden plough is placed in the corner of the room right behind the door. After the incensing of the table, the uttering of the blessings and the good wishes it is time for the ritual breaking of the rite bread. The head of the family, usually the oldest member, cuts the homemade bread and hands a piece to each around the table - the first piece should always go to the house itself, the second - to the domestic animals as a whole, and then - a piece to everyone according to their age, in descending order.

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The first bite of the rite bread is preserved. The maidens put it under their pillows so that they dream to whom they might get married. The one who gets the coin hidden in the rite bread will be healthy and fortunate all through the coming year. The straw over which the festive table has been laid is used during different rituals – on Gergiovden it is spread under the trees so they produce more fruit, it is also ritually burned over the fields so that the wheat crop is protected from hailstorms. The women that are about to give birth must lie over the straw so that their children are healthy. The whole evening on Christmas Eve is dedicated to different predictions for future marriages, for health and well being. After midnight the “Koledari” set off for the neighboring houses.

The feast connected to the birth of Christ starts in the evening of Christmas Eve. According to the Gospel, Christ was born in a cave outside the town of Vitleem, province of Jewry. The day of the birth of Christ is not known neither by the chroniclers of time nor by the first Christian philosophers. Until the IV century there is no official holiday dedicated to the birth of Christ in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church. The Christians only celebrated the resurrection and baptism of Jesus Christ. The division of these two holidays took place during the period 4th - 5th centuries, under the influence of the pagan beliefs.
 
During the 20th c. Bulgarians added to the Christmas ceremony another element, introduced by Western Europe – the shining Christmas tree which is connected to a number of ancient myths and legends and is now a symbol of the holiday. Christ came to this earth to enlighten all people and their kingdom. A new era began with his coming. Christ brought heavenly peace – the beautiful, heaped with fruit tree from Eden. That is why the Christmas tree is usually decorated with figures of angels and Santa Clause, silver garlands, shining crystal balls and candles – all symbolizing the essence of Christ – light, knowledge, purity, truth.