Trifon Zarezan Day. First Pruning of the Vines
The February morning sun rises above the steep foothills of the Elena Balkans. The small Bulgarian village of Tserova Koria is already awake. Smoke from the old terracotta capped chimneys drift abandonly like dark grey serpents and fill the mid- winter air with the smell of burnt pine.
In the village vineyard, a man stands in front of his vines.
He reverently makes the sign of the cross. Three times.
Replacing his woolly cap on his head, which is now as bald as the surrounding branches about him. He takes out his handheld shears. With the precision and care of a heart surgeon, he cuts three, East facing twigs from three separate vines.
To protect the newly cut vine from any frosts that may come before the fullness of spring, he also washes its wounds with red wine and holy water. He then rubs on wood ash, taken from the fire he burned during the night of Christmas Eve at his home.
The man along with his village neighbours continue to prune their vines, often reciting blessings that wish for a good crop later in the year.
Those vines which were not as productive last year, are scolded and threatened with the menacing shears and warned that they will be cut down for their lack of harvest.
Another man in the vineyard steps forward and speaks in defence of all the threatened vines by promising that they will produce much fruit for their pruners this year, and for that reason, they should be saved from the chop.
The day is 14th February.
It is the day St Trifon Zarezan Patron Saint of vine growers and wine makers.
It is the first day of the year for pruning the vine
In vineyards, all over Bulgaria men are following these rituals albeit with some modern variations.
But the tradition is deep rooted and every vine grower is proud of his grape.
St Trifon Zarezan A Favourite Winter Tradition
St Trifon Zarezan day is perhaps my most favourite winter tradition. It marks the ending of the winters grip on the land. Days are becoming longer, warmer and spring is ‘just around the corner’.
The celebrations and rituals vary from region to region in Bulgaria and in some areas the tradition last for three days (the next two days are called trifuntsi) with lots of food, music, dancing and more wine taking.
Did I already mention Trifon Zarezan Day was my favourite winter tradition?
Preparations for the Day
Among other things, St Trifon Zarezan Day is about vitality and fruitfulness. The pruning rituals are traditionally performed by men. Folklore says that women entering the vineyards on this day would bring bad luck to the wine. But this is not strictly observed in modern times and Trifon Zarezan day is a great occasion shared by everyone.
Rising with the dawn, the lady of the house would be up and about preparing and baking special festive bread, decorated with dough grapes and vine leaves. A hen or chicken is sometimes roasted and along with a baklitsa (wooden jug) of wine everything is placed into a woven bag ready for the man to take to the vineyard.
It was custom for the men to visit the local church service prior to the pruning ritual to receive the blessed water and to make prayer. I’m sure there are many who still do this.
Trifon Zarezan Celebrations
When all the ritual pruning has been completed, it is custom to start the days celebrations in the vineyard.
Everyone shares the food and jugs of wine that has been brought to the festive table.
Lively Music is played and singing, dancing eating and plenty of drinking ensue.
After the initial ritual in the vineyard the celebrations move on to the village square where more people arrive bringing with them even more food and wine. The music and dancing continue into the evening with everyone having a great time.
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To help with the productivity of the vines it is said that the more wine consumed on this day will ensure an abundance of fruit. So even If you don’t own a vine then you can still join in the festivities and at the same time help with this year’s wine production by simply drinking copious amounts of the stuff.
Did I already mention this was my favourite winter tradition?
King of the vines
During Trifon Zarezan day, traditional wreaths are made by twisting together the pruned twigs. They adorn the head or hat or placed about the shoulders.
Some vine twigs will be woven and twisted to make wine jug carriers and some vines will be taken home and be placed on the table with the religious icon.
It is custom in many areas to elect a ‘Tsar Na Lozyata’ King of the Vines. He could be voted the one who had the best wine or harvest the previous year.
The King will be crowned with a wreath made with the first cut vine twigs and paraded around the village, usually on the back of a cart pulled by a donkey or a horse, while trying not to spill his wine.
Like everyone else he will be encouraged to drink as much wine as is humanly possible so that a good harvest will follow later in the year. Long live traditions!
Two Days of St Trifon Zarezan
During the days of communist Bulgaria and when the Eastern Orthodox church followed the old Julian calendar for saints days February 14th. was known as St Trifon the Vine Growers Day.
In 1968 the Orthodox church moved to follow the Gregorian calendar which then placed St Trifon day to be on the 1st February.
As far as I understand. St Trifon the Martyr is celebrated on the Orthodox church holiday on February 1st and St Trifon The Vine Grower is celebrated on 14th February, Many celebrate both days, just to be sure!
St Trifon Zarezan the Martyr
One folk legend mentions that Trifon was born in the 3rd century AD and even as a young boy Trifon was blessed with the power of healing. Being a good Christian he put his power to use by healing the sick who in exchange for their health would convert to Christianity.
He had gained the favour of the Roman Emperor Gordian after healing his daughter at the age of 17. Unfortunately, after Gordian’s death he was succeeded by Emperor Decious. He persecuted the Christians and eventually had Trifon arrested and thrown into prison. Here he was brutally tortured before being killed.
Another story tells of
Trifon Zarezan as the brother of the Virgin Mary.
After the birth, Mary was carrying the baby Jesus near to Trifons home.
Trifon happened to be pruning his vines as Mary was passing. He called out a lewd comment to Mary as to the nature of the birth and mocked that she didn’t know who was the father of her child.
This upset Mary, so she went to see her sister- in- law. Mary told her that Trifon had cut off his nose while pruning his vines and must hurry to help him. On finding Trifon in the vineyard , nose and all other parts intact, Trifon’s wife related to him what Mary had told her.
On assuring his wife that he was OK and that his nose was right where it should be and to prove the point went to touch it. Unfortunately for Trifon he went to touch it with the hand that was holding the sharp knife and he cut his nose clean off!
St Trifon became known as Trifon Zarezan which means ‘cut off’ or ‘prune’ The nearest verb in Bulgarian I have found is Zariazvam which means to cut out. The day is also known as ‘snub nosed day’ or ‘noseless day’ or other derivations of the word, truncated.
Dionysus The Greek God of Wine and Fertility
In Greek mythology Dionysus is the god of winemakers, he is also the god of fertility and ecstasy as well as ritual madness.
He was the son of a mortal woman and was the last god accepted into Mt Olympus, The home of the Gods.
So what has he to do with St Trifon?
Well the ethnographers who study these things believe that the celebrations held on February 14th originate from an old pagan ritual dating back thousands of years to the time of the Thracians.
Passing on the knowledge of Wine making
Dionysus discovered the making of wine and passed that knowledge onto us mortals and each ‘passing on’ was followed by rampant parties fuelled by the drinking of lots of wine.
The day of St Trifon Zarez martyrdom is said to fall on or near to the old pagan festival and the combining of the two has been lost in the intricacies of history and mythology.
During the mid 1980’s Bulgaria was a very large and substantial exporter of wine to the UK. Its other mass market was the Soviet Union.
The success of this marketing prompted vine growers to plant varieties that would sell to other European countries. Merlot and Pinot Noir did very well. The strong Cabernet Sauvignon however, was the biggest hit with British paletes.
Fall of Communism affect
Unfortunately when president Gorbachov became leader of the USSR his implementation of anti alcohol measures had a devastating effect on the wine growing industry in Bulgaria.
In just a few years the production dropped by 75% vineyards were becoming overgrown and the wine making factories which were all built near to cities led to a poor and inferior wine.
After the fall of communism the state owned wineries were privatised and the vineyards attracted much needed foreign investment with wineries being built nearer to the vineyards.
Bulgaria continues to build its winemaking industry, and although I am no expert when it comes to wine the local stuff I buy here is very enjoyable and most affordable!
Did I tell you about St Trifon Zarezan? My favourite winter festival ? Hic!
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Did you know that
14th February Celebrates other Saints?
The feast day of Cyril and Methodius, associated with the invention of the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet is celebrated in the Catholic church.on this day, ( It is the anniversary of Cyril’s death) It is celebrated in Bulgaria on 24th May.
Yes. St Valentine is now celebrated in Bulgaria but I think more for sending cards and gifts to your loved one rather than any religious significance or remembrance.
Of course you can always celebrate with a romantic candlelit dinner washed down with a glass or two of wine !