Christmas is a very important celebration in Bulgaria, both in religious and cultural aspect. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church follows the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, Christmas is celebrated on 25th of December and not like the traditional Eastern Orthodox which celebrates it on 7th of January. It is believed that Mary gave birth to Jesus on Christmas Eve.
There are a lot of beliefs and rituals related to the Christmas holiday, however, only a few are celebrated throughout the whole country. The preparation for the holiday begins on 15th of November, when the Advent fast begins. The religious Bulgarians do not eat any animal products or meat during that time. The last day of the fast is Christmas Eve when the family gathers for a vegan meal.
By tradition, the meal at Christmas Eve has to contain at least 7 dishes and the number of the dishes has to be odd. It is common to prepare 7, 9 or 12 dishes. They include beans, sarmi (rice in cabbage or vine leafs), honey, banitsa (sweet or salty filo pastry pie), walnuts, oshav (dried plum tea) and pita (round bread). The wine and rakiya are counted as dishes too. The round bread called pita or pitka has a hidden coin in it. The elder of the family breakes the bread equally for everyone. The one who finds the coin in his piece of bread will be rich and lucky in the coming year.
It is common to set apart a plate full of food during the feast and the night for Jesus. After the feast, the table is not cleaned up but is left with the food on until the new day, else, something bad might happen. On 25th of December, the feast is broken and the people are allowed to eat meat, usually pork.
It is an old tradition to bake little round breads with a hole in the middle, called gevretsi. They are needed for “payment” for the carol singers called Koledari. This is a group of young and old men, dressed in traditional clothes, who sing Bulgarian christmas carols. It is an honor for everyone to receive them in their homes. They are given gevretsi, food and money in return for singing a blessing for the home.
The exchange of presents and the Christmas tree have recently become part of the Bulgarian traditions. These Western celebrations are well adopted by the Bulgarians and often combined with the older local traditions. The children believe in Santa, and previously, in his Russian equivalent “diado Mraz” (grandpa Frost).
Christmas is strictly family holiday. It is considered offensive to visit someone during the Christmas holidays.