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St Lazarovden. A Bulgarian Spring Festival

lazarovdenSt Lazarovden  is a tradition that is celebrated the day before Palm Sunday and is generally devoted to the young girls of the villages and the surrounding fields and woods. It is the first occasion for young women of the village to wear the full traditional adult costume of their region. It was a custom that the young maidens  would collect green willow branches on Lazaroveden and the following day, they would be placed on all the doors around  the village. Originally this day would have celebrated the miracle of St  Lazurus of Bethany who was brought back to life  after four days by Jesus Christ. The traditions that have survived today however bear no relation to the story of Lazarus.

Lazarovden During Lent

The Lent period which lasts for six weeks from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday is a time for abstinence and a ban on dancing is usually observed as a  penitence, which takes its rise from the time that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, where he resisted many temptations made by the devil. However the ban is relaxed on this special day of Lazarovden which allows the tradition to continue. The lazarki  is the name given to the young maidens of the village  who are considered suitable for marriage.

Lazurvane

During the early morning of Lazarovden the young girls of the village would gather in groups and starting at the home of the girl most eligible for marriage, she would be designated the leader or “kumitsa The group would make their way around the village singing songs and dancing at the homes of all the neighbours who would give eggs, money, fruit and small gifts. The songs sung on St Lazarovden would praise the beauty of the maiden and her lover,  the purity of maternal love, fertility and health and  express wishes for happiness and prosperity on the families for the ensuing year   It was a demonstration to the villagers that the young girls had become of age, as it were. It was believed that a girl that had not performed this ritual could not marry. The young women would throw willow wreaths in rivers, showing intentions that they wanted to marry. Therefore it was expected for every girl from the village to participate in this custom called Lazurvane The day after Lazorovden being Palm Sunday or Tsvetnitsa, ( Flower day) the girls who were the Lazarki (those suitable for marriage) would go down to the nearest river and find a spot where the water would be at its calmest. Each girl would then place a piece of homemade bread on a willow bark and placed it in the water. The girl who’s ‘bread boat’ travels the furthest would become the new ‘kumitsa’ The girls would return to the centre of the  village to celebrate and dance the horo. A traditional dance. In some of the villages the boys also take part in the ritual. Certainly in our village he helps to carry the basket. On Lazarovden all those named Lazar, Lazarina those named after flowers, plants or trees also celebrate their name day.    

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