Christmas and New Years in Bulgaria

This blog post is part of our ‘Multicultural Holiday Traditions’ series. The first post of the series can be reviewed here and links to all the posts can be found at the bottom of this article. The following was submitted from iTi Marketing Manager, Annie Holland. 

In Bulgaria the bigger celebration is on Christmas Eve- that is when we prepare an odd number of dishes (9 or 11), the whole family sits down to dinner at 8:00 pm and our presents (from family and friends) are exchanged after dinner. In our family the tradition is for Santa to bring only one gift the next morning and usually it is something small. That way we as parents can take credit for buying gifts too. We didn’t grow up with a lot, so when we started a family, we wanted to make sure the children understand that the bigger gifts come from a family member. That way, when children share with their friends what they got for Christmas, there is no way another child will feel “less deserving” for not getting as big gift from Santa, when in fact their parents couldn’t possibly afford it.

Bulgarian navy beans in a clay pot

Bulgarian navy beans in a clay pot – PC 1

The Christmas Eve dinner is entirely vegetarian (and even vegan in some parts of Bulgaria). Meat is served the next day for Christmas Day. There are traditional ceramic plates/dishes we use, as well as decorations that have to be included. We always have a plate with nuts in the shell, fruit, onion and garlic, symbolizing abundance.

Before dinner everyone opens a walnut that is supposed to predict what kind of year you will have (if the nut inside is full and nice looking, you will have a great year). Girls that are unwed save their first Christmas bread bite and wrap it under their pillow in hopes to dream of the one they will marry.

 Festive table decorated with candles, fresh fruit, nuts, whole onions and garlic in hope to bring abundance next year

Table decor for good luck in the new year – PC 2

There are staples that are always served- homemade yogurt, handmade bread with decorations that represent different aspects of abundance (chickens, sheep, grapes and vines, barley etc.) and has a coin in it that is very much sought after, different sorts of salads and vegetarian dips from peppers and eggplant, preserves both fruit and vegetable, and also sauerkraut (usually homemade).

Tikvenik - Phyllo Dough Pumpkin Sweet

Tikvenik – Phyllo Dough Pumpkin Sweet – PC 3

On New Year’s Eve we have a traditional Bulgarian pastry called banitsa, which contains little charms ( pieces of paper wrapped in aluminum foil, nowadays people just put it on top) that have funny verses written on them, telling you what kind of luck you will have next year. For example, if you will buy a house, or have a baby, or new job or something similar. It is always much anticipated by kids especially.

Traditional Bulgarian banitsa

Traditional Banista – PC 4

After dinner, we do not clean the table but leave it as is until the morning. It is believed that our dead ancestors visit the home after midnight and feast on the leftovers. Another belief is that the spirit of the home is appeased by this. However, I personally think that this became a tradition because of necessity. After all the cooking and cleaning for days, the women in the household (in the past family gatherings could have been for 20 + people) needed a break, hence they came up with a reasonable explanation for the times so they can rest.

Thank you to Annie, for sharing her traditions and photos with us!

Photo Credits:

PC 1 – Annie’s Art Book

PC 2 – Annie’s Art Book

PC 3 – Annie’s Art Book

PC 4 – Annie’s Art Book

Other Holiday Content

Team iTi’s Multicultural Holiday Traditions

German Christmas Traditions – Including a cookie recipe!

Christmas Time in Italy

Holiday Traditions in Brazil

Christmas Time in Peru


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