Bulgaria celebrates Lazarus Saturday (Lazaritsa) and Palm Sunday (Tsvetnitsa)!
The weekend before Orthodox Easter is a special time in Bulgaria. Associated with the height of spring and all the positivity, hope and love that come with it, Lazarus Saturday (Лазарица, Lazaritsa) and Palm Sunday (Цветница, Tsvetnitsa) are a lot more than religious holidays!
Lazaritsa, the Saturday, is the time for a curious love and marriage custom performed by unmarried girls. The girls, called lazarki, tour each house in the village. Wearing their traditional folk dresses, they sing a unique set of songs not performed on any other day. The girls also pick flowers and make colourful wreaths. On the following day, the lazarki simultaneously throw the wreaths into a river in a sort of “catch the wedding bouquet” contest. Whoever’s wreath ends up first will be the first to marry!
Huh, Horse Easter!? That’s right, believe it or not, we have that holiday in Bulgaria! Saint Theodore’s Day or Todorovden (Тодоровден) falls on the first Saturday of the Orthodox Great Lent, the traditional period of forty days of fasting before Easter.
Because Todor, Teodor and Teodora are popular names among Bulgarians, Todorovden is a widely celebrated name day around the country. But it’s not just people that celebrate on this day: in fact, horses are the well-deserved highlight of this somewhat unusual Bulgarian holiday.
Todorovden is also known as Horse Easter (Конски Великден, Konski Velikden) because many Bulgarian villages organize a recreational horse race known as kushia (кушия). In some rural regions, these equestrian events turn into major celebrations, complete with traditional music, food and drinks.
So whether you like horses or you’re just into wild Bulgarian festivities, Happy Horse Easter and Saint Theodore’s Day to you!
The Greek island of Chios hosts the most explosive Easter celebration ever! Each year on the eve of Easter, the congregations of two rival Orthodox churches in the town of Vrontados engage in a full-scale fireworks war against each other.
From two hilltops about 400 metres from each other, participants aim for a direct hit on the rival church’s bell tower. Whoever scores more direct hits is the winner… though the rivalry always remains unsettles at least until the next year!
The fiery tradition, known in Greek as Rouketopolemos (Рουκετοπόλεμος), has been practiced for hundreds of years. Reportedly, real cannons were used in the beginning, until the ruling Ottomans prevented the locals of Chios from blowing each other to pieces and suggested fireworks instead.
Thought Easter was last week? Think again! Bulgaria’s Eastern Orthodox majority celebrates the resurrection of Christ this weekend, on the night of 11 to 12 April. Due to the complex way the date of Easter is calculated each year, Orthodox Easter may be quite far in time from Western Easter… but it may be on the same date too.
So if you’re celebrating Easter the Bulgarian Orthodox way, enjoy a few days of egg fighting with elaborately painted eggs, feasting on delicious kozunak sweetbread and following many other curious Bulgarian Easter traditions.
Hristos voskrese (Christ is Risen)!
Today happens to be Easter for Eastern Orthodox Christians like most Bulgarians as well as for Catholics and Protestants. Kashkaval tourist wishes you a Happy Easter!
If you’re set on celebrating Easter (Великден, Velikden) the Bulgarian way, don’t forget that:
- Eggs are painted on Thursday and Saturday during the Holy Week, never on any other day. The first egg must be painted red and is saved for as long as possible to bring good fortune and prosperity to the family.
- At midnight, you go around your local church three times in a counter-clockwise direction, carrying a candle in your hand (and trying to keep the flame burning during the whole procession!)
- Kozunak (козунак) is the most delicious sweet bread in existence. Now’s your chance to try it!
- The traditional greeting among Bulgarian Christians is in Church Slavonic. It goes as follows: Hristos voskrese (Христос воскресе), meaning “Christ is risen”. The proper response is: Voistina voskrese (Воистина воскресе), “Truly, He is risen”.
- Egg fighting begins from midnight on and whoever has the strongest egg (the “beater”) will be the healthiest during the year. However, beware of cheaters with wooden eggs!