On December 24, we celebrate one of the biggest Christian holidays - Christmas Eve. According to the biblical tradition, on this day the birth pains of the Virgin Mary began and it is the beginning of Christ's birth.
According to an old tradition, before setting the table for the holiday, the master of the house lights a special log in the hearth, called a badnik. There the wood remains smoldering all night and keeping the fire alive. This custom is an echo of old Slavic beliefs in our lands. According to them, on the day when a child was expected to be born, the man lit a sanctified tree to drive away the spirits of the dead, evil spirits and witches. After the conversion, our people kept this custom, but burned the sanctified tree in honor of the Savior's birth.
According to custom, the festive table is arranged on straw on the ground in the southeast corner of the room, under the iconostasis. In the last days of the Christmas fast, from Ignazhden to Christmas Eve, only plant food is eaten. There should be a minimum of 7 plant-based dishes on the table. Mandatory among them are:
Bread with a coin in it
It takes center stage and the dinner begins with its breaking down. A piece must be left in front of the icon of the Mother of God and for the house. Pieces of the bread are then distributed to family members in order of seniority, and whoever takes the piece with the coin will be healthy and happy in the coming months. Maidens put a little piece of the bread under their pillow to make them dream of the man they are going to marry.
There is no traditional Bulgarian dinner without a salad. Here, our advice is to bet on the winter options with sauerkraut or beetroot.
Beans are a must have because they are considered a symbol of fertility. They can be cooked in the oven or in the form of a stew.
Grape and cabbage sarmi, fruits, oshav are also served, and for dessert – most often tikvenik (a kind of pumpkin dessert). Garlic also has a central role at the table, as it is believed to bring health.
Everyone in the family should try a little bit of the dishes on the table to have luck during the year. Finally, the diners break a walnut each. If the nut is full, then the person will not get sick. Nuts can also be used to predict whether the year will be fertile.
After dinner is over, the table should not be cleaned and whatever is left on the plates should not be put away until the next morning. It is believed that at night our ancestors may "visit" the house and therefore it is important to have something to eat.
In villages and smaller towns, carolers go round the houses, starting at midnight on Christmas Eve. They sing holiday songs, and in return it is customary to give them something to eat, usually a dough product called a kravaiche. The popular belief is that this way the houses visited are protected from evil forces.