Like elsewhere in the world the main focus of the winter holidays is around Christmas and the New Year, although traditional customs vary. In addition there is a rich assortment of traditional holidays in the months of December, January and February that offer an insight to Bulgarian customs and superstitions. This is because the winter months offer a respite from the hard day-to-day work of rural life. It is a time for rest, celebrating and preparing for the fortunes of the New Year. Here we have highlighted just some of the most significant and interesting holidays.Traditional winter festivities, rooted deep in folklore are still observed in many rural areas with regional variations. Most relate to preparations and superstitions for the New Year.
6th December – ‘Nikulden’ – St. Nicholas
One of the biggest winter holidays in the build up to Christmas, not least because of the large number of people who celebrate their name day. Very much a family celebration, St. Nicholas day is the day when Bulgarians must eat fish.When preparing the fish, extra care must be taken that no scales fall on the ground, for it is believed that anyone stepping on them will fall ill and die. The fish’s head, which has the shape of a cross, is preserved as a cure against childhood illnesses.
9th December – ‘Sveta Anna’
Observed mainly in the southern and western regions of Bulgaria, this day – known as ‘Yana’s conception’ - is connected with witchcraft and magic spells. It is during the preceding night that magicians, witches and fortune-tellers can most easily make contact with the dead, the devil and demons. They appear around a fire like fruit flies. For this reasons villagers light fires with manure in front of every door, scattering ash and millet around the home and stables.Young women sow wheat in a pot and dip twigs from a cherry or apple tree in water and leave them near the fire. If by the New Year the wheat has germinated or the twigs have grown leaves, it means that the girl will get married to a good lad in the following year.In the Orthodox Church the day is dedicated to St.Anna, mother of the Virgin Mary, protector of marriage, family and motherhood, and is celebrated as the name day of ‘Anna’.