Easter Sunday (Velikden)is the most important and Holiest Easter festival for Christians throughout the world and is a recognised public holiday. (Holy Day). Depending on when that festival falls will depend if your culture follows one of two calendars. Gregorian or Julian
The Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world. However,not all Christian churches observe Easter Sunday according to the Gregorian calendar. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar. Bulgaria being a largely orthodox Christian country is one of them.
Easter is the time of springtime festivals. A time to welcome back the flowers and the trees. Tulips, crocuses, daffodils and the blossoms of the shrubs and fruit trees.
The Sunday before Easter Sunday is called Holy Week and traditional Easter customs starts with Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday or Tsvetnitsa (Flower Day)
Early in the morning on Tsvetnitsa the ‘lazarki’( young girls who took part in the St Lazarovden tradition on the previous day) go to the nearest river. After they find a place where the water is calm, they put pieces of traditional bread on willow barks and throw them into the water. The girl whose ‘bread boat’ out sails those of the others is pronounced the new ‘kumitsa’. She invites everybody to her house where they all sit down to a table on which traditional bread, dried corn (hominy) mashed nettle are served.
Holy week is special for Bulgarians. Many take the whole week off as holiday . The religious significance is that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey he was greeted by thousands of cheering fans who threw down palms and olive branches to honour him.
Bulgaria however does not grow palm trees and so willow is used to make wreaths. They are then worn by young girls who after visiting church and having their wreaths blessed will go down to the river where they will throw them across the water. Hopefully to be caught by their future husband on the other side.
Name Days for Tsvetnitsa
Once again name days are also part of the Easter festival celebrations. People named after flowers or plants, like Violeta, Roza, Lillia, Latinka, Kamelia, Margarita celebrate their name day on Palm Sunday.
Maundy Thursday Egg Painting Day
Easter eggs are traditionally dyed/painted on Maundy (Holy) Thursday. The first egg to be dyed must be coloured red it symbolizes the blood of Christ. It should be be buried in the fields to ensure fertility or kept in the home until the following easter to bring good luck.
Good Friday is the anniversary of the Crucifixion. A table is set up in churches representing Christ’s coffin. The faithful climb underneath in the hopes of having a year full of health and fertility.
Holy Saturday services begin at 11p.m. Families and friends attend church together carrying their coloured eggs with them.
Just before midnight everyone seems to have at least one candle lit and a procession is formed and led out of the church into the very start of Easter Sunday.
People greet each other with the words kristos voskrese (Христос воскресе) Christ has risen.
The response is Voistina voskrese (Воистина воскресе) He truly has risen.
The priest and congregation then walk around the church three times with lit candles in hand.
The belief is if one has been a good Christian, his/her candle will not go out no matter how strong the wind might be, because they have no sins. Following the service, the clergy blesses the breads and eggs brought by the people and they return with them to their homes. The eggs are cracked after the midnight service. One egg is cracked on the wall of the church, and this is the first egg eaten after the long Great Fast of Lent.
Easter Sunday. Velikden (Great Day)
Like most festivals in Bulgaria food plays a very important part of tradition. On Easter Sunday, after forty six days of fast and abstinence, a feast of all the prohibited food is laid on the table, with the kozanak a specially decorated bread symbolizing the body of Christ, taking center stage. Lamb, representing the Paschal Lamb, is always served.
Easter Egg Fight (choukane s yaitsa)
The ritual of tapping the eggs takes place just before the Easter lunch begins. Each person will select his or her egg. Then the people in turn exchange the Easter greeting (“Christ has risen!” / “Indeed He has Risen”) 3 times before tapping their egg against the eggs of others. Opponents smash their eggs into each other. The winner (borak) is the one who’s egg is left unbroken The winning egg is kept until next Easter and is a sign of good luck. The eldest woman in the house usually has the privilege of dying the eggs.
Christian Easter Egg Tradition Legend
The Christian tradition of the red egg custom is connected with a specific legend.
Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cured from all the evil spirits within her, was the first one to see Jesus rise from the dead. She went around the world to spread the happy news. Eventually she reached Rome and Emperor Tiberius’s palace.
According to the tradition, everyone visiting him was supposed to carry a gift to the Emperor. The rich people were carrying expensive gifts while the poor ones offered whatever they could afford.
Mary Magdalene took an egg to Tiberius’s palace and handed it to the Emperor with the following greeting:”Christ has risen from the dead!” The Emperor could not believe what he heard and responded: “How could anyone ever rise from the dead?! It is as impossible as that white egg to turn red right now!”
While Tiberius was talking, the egg in Mary Magdalene’s hands started changing its colour until it finally became bright red.
The Easter greeting ever since has remained “Christ has risen from the dead” and Christians all over the world colour eggs in red (and various other colours) for Easter to celebrate their belief in the resurrection.
Easter Festival Superstitions
It is believed if one hears a cuckoo midway during Lent, spring is coming. Likewise, if one has money in his pocket at the sound of the cuckoo, he will be rich in the coming year, but if one has no money or is hungry, then that will likely be how the rest of the year will play out. No change for some of us then!
Velichka, Velina, Velika and Veichko have their name day on Easter day.