Easter in Bulgaria, which this year falls on 2 May, is one of the best times to get to know the country and its culture. The weather is generally good, spring is in full bloom, and traveling outside the big cities is a pleasure.
To make the best of the Bulgarian Easter, you should have some understanding of how do Bulgarians celebrate it.
To put it in a nutshell, Easter outshines Christmas as far as the Eastern Orthodox are concerned. Easter literally translates as Great Day in Bulgarian and the whole week before the holiday is called Strastna, or Passion Week. Officially, this is the time when believers relive Christ’s passion. In post-Communist Bulgaria, it is more a period for mainly practical preparations for the four-day bank holiday that starts on Great Friday, which is of course Good Friday. There are strictly fixed tasks for each day. Failure to observe the tradition will bring bad luck, Bulgarians trust.
Great Monday, Great Tuesday, and Great Wednesday are assigned for cleaning the house and putting it in order. Great Thursday is the day when Easter eggs are colored. On Great Friday any sort of work is prohibited. Those who are more religious go to church, where they crawl under a table representing the grave of Christ – for good health.
On the Great Saturday, tradition requires that women go to the cemetery, burn incense at the graves of their relatives and give out Easter sweet bread and colored eggs so that the souls of the dead may rest in peace. Nowadays few Bulgarians do this. Instead, they use it as an extra day to color eggs on.
It is also the day when Easter bread, called Kozunak in Bulgaria, is kneaded and baked in households that do not rely on bakeries. Half an hour before midnight on Great Saturday Bulgarians take a few eggs and go to church for the apex of the celebration.
After a ritual in which the priest drives Satan from the church, he steps out and the congregation follows him with lit candles. At midnight the priest lights the candles and greets the congregation by saying, Hristos Voskrese, or “Christ Is Risen.” The answer is Voistina Voskrese, or “Indeed He Is Risen.” Traditionally, Bulgarians have to use these greetings for the next 40 days, but today few go to such extremes.
Then they walk around the church three times – in theory. In practice, there is congestion at the door when everybody tries to get out at once. While some of the parishioners are still walking around, others are blocked inside.
When the service is over, people exchange eggs and “fight” with them – they hit each other’s eggs trying to break them. The person whose egg is the strongest will have good health and luck throughout the year. However, the egg that was dyed first is taken back home and kept until the following Easter.
The 40-day Lent ends on Great Sunday and, no matter whether they have observed it or not, the Bulgarians eat eggs, Kozunak, and traditionally, roast lamb.