A CRACKING GOOD TIME: Bulgarian Easter traditions include the painting of eggs which, apart from the sacred first red egg, are destined for battle in the ‘choukane s yaitsa’.
Photo: Yana Kiselova
FIRE AT MIDNIGHT: Orthodox Christians exchange ‘holy fire’ as midnight brings Easter. The traditional greeting is ‘Hristos vozkrese’ (‘Christ has risen’). The response is ‘Voistina vozkrese’ (‘He has risen indeed’).
Photo: Georgi Kozhuharov
TRADITIONAL: Kozunak, as much a part of Easter in Bulgaria as painted hard-boiled eggs, roast lamb and red wine.
Photo: Tsvetelina Nikolaeva
Those who have missed the egg-painting tradition in the early hours of Holy Thursday, can still do so on Saturday, but not earlier, according to Bulgarian tradition. Friday in Holy Week is the anniversary of the Crucifixion, the day that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. In Bulgarian tradition, the "coffin of Christ" –in reality, generally meaning a table set up in the church – stays for a week in the church and people crawl underneath for health and fertility.
Easter is characterised by certain food and rituals. In Orthodox tradition, these are the sweet bread and dyed eggs. In Bulgaria, Kozunak, the traditional, braided, sweet bread, symbolising the body of Christ, is a necessary item on the Easter table everywhere.
Kozunak is a city culture item, which was introduced to the villages later on. The decorations on top of the bread represent solar symbols and commemorate Christ’s birth.
Easter candles are another symbol of Easter. These are sometimes lit in churches on the eve of Easter Sunday. Some commentators believe that these can be directly linked to the Pagan customs of lighting bonfires at this time of year to welcome the rebirth/resurrection of the sun god. Many people named after flowers or plants celebrate their name days on Palm Sunday and others called Velichka, Velina, Velika and Veichko have their Name Days on Easter day.
An hour before midnight on Saturday, all churches begin the Easter liturgy. Families and friends go together to church, carrying the coloured eggs with them. When the clock strikes midnight, they greet each other with the words "Hristos vozkrese" ("Christ has risen"). The answer is "Voistina vozkrese" ("He has risen indeed").
They then walk around the church three times with candles in hand, led by the priest. The candles are carried back home. While still at the church, though, the ever-important egg "fight" (in Bulgarian, "choukane s yaitsa") begins. Similar to the British game of conkers, opponents smash their eggs onto one another. The player whose egg remains intact is proclaimed the winner, or Borak. The winning egg is kept until Easter the following year.
On Sunday, because Lent is over, the tradition is to have a table laden with food, the most important of which is lamb. In Eastern Europe, this is particularly important, as Orthodox believers relate it to the death of Jesus Christ, because a lamb is believed to have been sacrificed in the name of Christ on Resurrection day. While many Bulgarians will relate the tradition to you in this way, it might also be pointed out that at Passover, Jewish observance included the sacrificial consumption of lamb.
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