Perhaps you have been invited to celebrate Christmas with a Bulgarian family or just want to have a Balkan-inspired holiday at home this year? Here is our guide to how to celebrate Christmas like Bulgarians do, with all the important traditions you should follow.
In Bulgaria, Christmas Eve (Badni Vecher) is associated with more activity than Christmas Day itself. According to tradition, you should fast for the whole day, i.e. eat only vegetarian food. Fasting is a tradition from the Orthodox Church, and the most religious people do it for 40 days before Christmas.
The festive dinner is also vegetarian and humble. The number of the dishes on the table should be seven, nine, or eleven (symbolic numbers from the Bible), although in some parts of the country they may serve twelve dishes that stand for the twelve months of the year.
A traditional bread is prepared for the dinner and then shared among all the family members. In one of the bread chunks, a coin is hidden before the bread is baked. It is believed that the person who gets the chunk with the coin will be the richest in the coming year.
Other dishes on the table include cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, bean stew, red peppers stuffed with rice, turshia (a mix of cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and parsley marinated in vinegar for a few weeks), nuts and fruit, wine and rakia (the local strong spirit), and stewed fruit.
After the dinner, the family will watch a festive movie together or indulge in chitchats. The children, like many children across the globe, go to bed before midnight to make sure Santa will come and leave a gift for them.
Christmas is the day when gifts are exchanged, and families spend more time together or visit other relatives. The Christmas lunch traditionally should be sour cabbage cooked with one or several types of meat. Some people may go to church, but it’s not as typical as going to Midnight Mass on Easter, when tens of thousands flock to the churches.
More and more Bulgarians are choosing to have an artificial Christmas tree or a living one planted in a pot instead of buying a cut tree, which they will have to throw away after the holidays.
An old tradition remaining from the Communist era, when Christmas ornaments were sometimes hard to find in stores or were very limited in variety, is to wrap walnuts and other objects in tin foil and hang them on the Christmas tree. Influenced by American movies, Bulgarian children have started hanging stockings, too, hoping for more presents.