Today while eating breakfast with my host mom, she laughingly told me, “Today is a holiday!”. We laugh because every day, especially in the recent weeks of late December and Early January, there has been a new celebration.
Bulgaria is primarily Orthodox Christian, so many of their holidays revolve around the Orthodox Church. “Name Days” especially are very popular. Each one represents a different Eastern Orthodox saint, and anyone who shares the same name as the saint can celebrate as well. For example, on Ivan day, anyone with the name Ivan or Ivana can throw a party and receive gifts, similar to a birthday. Since nearly all Bulgarians have names that match up with Orthodox saints, there are a lot of name days.
That said, in the last month alone we had both of my host parents’ birthdays, followed by “Budni Vecher” also known as Christmas Eve. It is traditional to have a completely vegetarian meal for Christmas Eve, as well as a large “pitka” bread containing hidden coins or fortunes. This was followed by Christmas, which consisted of even more food and fortunes, as well as exchanging gifts. After a solid two days of eating, I assumed a break was coming. Little did I know, the following days then included “Stefanov Den”, the name day for my host mom’s baby grandson Stefan, and the next day was another celebration for Stefan’s first birthday. After that, we had a New Year’s Eve celebration, followed by a huge family dinner party on New Years Day (which was also a name day for those with the name Vasil).
Today, I learned is called “Voditsi” and it is custom to hold a jar or pot of water outside in the night while making a wish. Tomorrow is then St. Jordan’s day, where a brief religious ceremony is held, a cross is thrown into the freezing river or lake, and groups of men jump into the freezing waters to retrieve the cross as luck for the new year.
All of these traditions and holidays keep my life here very interesting and happy. Family is very important here, and I really do appreciate that they use any chance they have to get together and enjoy each other’s company. While at first I was shocked at how long a dinner could go (6+ hours!), I have come to see that this is a way to relax and reconnect with each other, and I hope when I return to the US that I will bring this mindset with me. It has also been a big motivator for me to improve my Bulgarian language skills, so that I can participate in conversations with my extended family. Overall, I am grateful that my Bulgarian family has welcomed me into their many holiday traditions and taught me that any day spent together is something to be celebrated.