How Bulgarians send off the old year and meet the new one
Written by Andrea Vushkova, edited by Scott Green, by Unsplash and Rodnoto.bg.
Bulgarians like to greet the New Year with a bang. A literal one. Every foreigner I’ve spoken with is amazed by the intensity and the grandiosity of the fireworks, the firecrackers, and any other form of pyrotechnics that come to mind. Many people recount that it feels like war. We do tend to like fireworks. I live on the 12th floor and not a day passes without someone, somewhere making some noise. What can I say, we like celebrating loudly.
Fireworks, as pretty as they are, are also quite a universal way to salute the New Year. So let me tell you about the typical Bulgarian traditions for the final hours of the year. Spoiler alert: there is lots of food! Surprised? I doubt it.
Like Christmas, every family has its own traditions. In mine, my grandmother usually prepares sarmi in cabbage leaves and the so-called “Russian salad,” which Russians and most post-soviet countries actually call “Salad Olivier.” The most important element of the dinner on 31 December is the banitsa. Yes, it’s the regular type of banitsa, filled with a mix of Bulgarian cheese and eggs. However, there is a special ingredient: we hide some good luck wishes for the coming year in between the filo pastry. Usually they rhyme and the most popular ones are health, luck, a lottery win, wedding, baby, new house, and a new car. They even sell the mainstream ones inside the filo pastry packages. But you can’t imagine the humiliation of getting the “wedding” or the “baby” luck when you are a teenager or in your early 20’s and your entire family’s attention is focused on the question “When are you getting married?.” That is why some people, like my family in the previous years, have gotten creative and written our own, personalized wishes.
A few minutes before the clock strikes midnight, the president of Bulgaria holds a speech, broadcast on the main TV channels. Many people watch it, as it has become a tradition in our country. Then, exactly at midnight, the national anthem starts playing, a bottle of champagne is popped, and we start congratulating each other with “Chestita nova godina” (“Happy New Year”) or “Za mnogo godini” (something like “Live long and prosper!”). After the anthem, we play Dunavsko horo, a national dance, named after the Danube river, and written by Diko Iliev. If you want to learn the steps, you can find them here and you can hear the original music here.
Probably the most typical tradition that we have in Bulgaria, is the classic “New Year Beating.” It’s not a joke, but don’t imagine an actual beating. What I am talking about is the ritual of “survakane” which is performed with a “survachka.” The word comes from the language of the ancient Thracians and means “a new beginning of the Sun God.” The survachka is a twig from a cornel tree, decorated with colorful yarn, little bagels (we call them “gevrecheta”), coins, dried fruit, and popcorn. Each element symbolizes something, and all of them are connected to good health, luck, exuberant crops and wealth. According to the tradition, young boys go around the houses on 1 January and tap everyone lightly on the back with the survachka, while reciting rhymed wishes for the New Year. In return, they get money and sweets.
I hope that you learned a thing or two about the customs in Bulgaria for New Year’s. We have a mix of pagan and modern rituals, but all of them are fun, and quite unique. You can now use your knowledge of Bulgarian traditions and surprise your Bulgarian friends with a good, friendly New Year beating! Don’t be too mean though, or they might not pay you.
Have a good New Year’s Eve, and an amazing year ahead! Let’s all wish for a better and more hopeful 2021!