Bulgarian Folk Festivals and Customs IV

Winter Folk Calendar


DIMITROVDEN (St. Dimitri's Day)

26 October

It is the day on which Saint Dimitri, a major saint in the Bulgarian folk tradition, is worshipped. Saint Dimitri, the wonder-worker of Thessaloniki, is the elder brother of Saint George, as well as brother of Archangel Michael (patron of the outer world and 'sole taker'). He is also believed to be kin to Saint Petka.

The Day of St. Dimitri is connected with a turn of seasons - folk beliefs associate Dimitrovden with the beginning of winter. People used to say "St. George brings summer, St. Dimitri - winter". Saint Dimitri is the patron of winter and frost. He has a long white beard wherefrom he sprinkles snow on the earth while riding on a red horse. The Christian saint tradition is intertwined with earlier pagan beliefs. St. Dimitri is represented as an antipode of his twin brother St. George. Thus, the ancient twin myth implying the opposites of death and life, youth and old age, summer and winter, sowing and reaping had become part of the Bulgarian tradition. Through this opposition, the patron days of these two saints demarcate the Bulgarian folk calendar dividing it in two halves.

An important element in the Dimitrovden rituality (and a link with St. Michael's Day) is All Souls' Day, being situated in a period of transition, when the souls of the dead come down to earth. The memorial service and the feast for the dead  (grain offering) seek to ensure support and protection from both Saint Dimitri and the ancestors.

For seasonal workers - shepherds, farm hands, etc. October 26 is the last day of a traditional period (beginning from St. George’s Day and concluding with St. Dimitri’s Day). Therefore, Dimitrovden has also been known as Razpous (Dismissal). The end of agricultural activities is marked by village festivals, dances and songs. Most prominent in the beliefs and rites associated with Saint Dimitri's day is the idea of a turning point, a transition from one cycle to another.

Celebrated by all who bear names such as Dimitar, Dimitrina, Mitko, Mitra.


ARHANGELOVDEN (Archangel Michael's Day, Council of Archangel St. Michael)

8 November


On this day, the Bulgarian East Orthodox Church celebrates the Council of Archangel St Michael; it is the Christian holiday celebrating death and death's chief master - Archangel St. Michael. By the popular tradition, it is observed as the Day of Saint Rangel (Archangel Michael). He is imagined to be young and handsome, but considered to personify death and is therefore also called the "soul taker". This image confirms the folklore dialectics perceiving death as an intermediate link between two lives - thus allowing death's ugliness to be replaced by beauty and serenity that forego eternity. Actualized in this way by the popular belief is the ancient mythological trinomial of life-death-new life implying that being born to this world means death in relation to the next world, while dying on this earth means birth into the world of predecessors.

The fact that in many places Arhangelovden used to be chosen as the day of a patron saint reveals profound worldly wisdom - it is a kind of  "outwitting" fate, for it is death personified by Archangel St. Michael that becomes patron of the home (that is life). The attitude to this saint is on the verge of paganism: he is offered sacrifices (animal and grain), his name is mentioned during meals at home, the whole family would pray to him for health and a rich crop during the year.

The myth has it that at the time when the earth was created Archangel Michael was one of six brothers who were to share out the earth. He was allotted to reign over the realm of the dead. St. Michael is perceived to be the leader of Heaven's Warriors who are fighting the dark forces of evil.

Archangel Michael's Day would be observed not only by older people wishing to meet a quick and painless death, but in fact by everyone. People believed that if someone died with a smile on his face it meant that Archangel St Michael had given him a golden apple because he had been a good Christian. This gift was taken as a sign of righteousness.

In most households an animal, a ram, was sacrificed, and ritual breads were made. The food was  by a priest and only then the  would hand out the offerings to their neighbours and relatives. Then all sat at the table for a festive meal.

In some areas the deceased relatives are remembered on this day by way of Zadushnitza (All Soul's Day) rituals.

Celebrated as their "name day" by people whose names are Angel, Angelina, Raina, Raicho, Rangel, Mihail, Mila, Milka, Milcho.



ANDREEVDEN  (St. Andrew's Day)


NIKULDEN (St. Nicholas Day)




BUDNI VECHER (Christmas Eve) and   KOLEDA (Christmas)



Дяков, Томислав. Народният календар. Празници и вярвания на българите. С., Анубис, 1993.




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