Sometimes vineyard owners perform a ritual cutting of the vines, then drink themselves silly with its produce. The tradition is a leftover from the ancient Thracians, who honoured the god Dionysus in this way, but some will propound another story: St Trifon injured his nose while he was cutting the vines. Hence the name “Zarezan” – “cut”. Confusingly, St Trifon Zarezan coincides with Valentine’s Day. You can tell pro-Western Bulgarians by their carrying around pink balloons on that day while more traditional folk will simply drink wine.
March is bookended by notable name days, with Marta on the 1st and Blagoveshtenie, or the Annunciation, on the 25th, celebrated by all the Blagovests. While April may appear to be thankfully free of feast days, don’t be fooled: the movable name days, whose dates are determined by Easter, usually take place during this time. For the Eastern Orthodox Church, in 2008 the holiday falls on 27 April. Because of this, St Theodor’s Day, the name day for all Todors and Todorkas, will be on 15 March and is known as Konski Velikden, or Horse Easter, as villages traditionally celebrate with horse races called kushii.
The Saturday one week before Easter – 19 April in 2008 – is St Lazarus’ day. On the following day, known as Tsvetnitsa, or Palm Sunday, almost all of Bulgaria celebrates, since everybody knows somebody named after a plant or flower. The most notable names from the enormous list include Tsvetelina, Zdravka, Yasen, Varban, Yavor, Temenuzhka, and Lily. But just to make sure you don’t miss anybody, best to call any Bulgarian friend you may be in doubt about to offer him the traditional name day greeting: ”Da ti e zhivo i zdravo imeto!”, or “May your name live on!”
In terms of popularity, Palm Sunday’s nearest name day rival is St. George’s Day on 6 May. Bulgarians consider him the patron saint of livestock, shepherds, and the army. Like Trifon Zarezan, St George is the Christian incarnation of a pagan deity, so his celebrations have a clearly pagan flavour. On his day believers are required to eat lamb, so villagers slaughter the animals in their own yards, sometimes having had them blessed in the local church.
11 May, celebrated by people named Kiril and Metodiy, is much more subdued. Not surprising, since these scholarly saints invented the Bulgarian alphabet. This holiday has only been observed since the middle of the 19th Century when Bulgarians adopted Kiril and Metodiy as a symbol of their struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.
The feast of Saints Konstantin (also known as Kostadin) and Elena falls on 21 May, and the next big holiday is Enyovden, or Midsummer’s Day, on 24 June. Bulgarians believe that on this shortest night of the year medicinal herbs are particularly strong and the drinks are on the shrinking group of those named Enyo, Yanko and Yanka. 29 June is a notable double celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as all those who share their names.
July is a bit of a dry spell for name days. Ilinden, or St Elijah’s Day, on 20 July is the most popular one, with no thanks to all our friends named Iliya, but rather in honour of the Ilindensko vastanie, or the Ilinden Uprising, in 1903. Bulgarians living in Thrace rose up against their Ottomans rulers – only to be brutally suppressed 10 days later.
15 August celebrates the Uspenie Bogorodichno, or the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, when all those named Maria are obliged to buy rounds “for their health”. The next notable name day is feted primarily in Sofia. While the capital is technically an inanimate object, it nevertheless has its name day on 17 September, the feast of the martyr Sofia and her three daughters Vyara, Nadezhda, and Lyubov, also known as Faith, Hope, and Love.
One month later on 14 October, it is Petko, Pencho, Paraskeva and Petkana’s turn to treat. Although everyone calls it Petkovden, or Petko’s Day, it is officially called the Feast of the Venerable Paraskeva-Petka of Tarnovo. Autumn’s most eagerly awaited name day, however, is Dimitrovden, or St Dimitar’s Day, on 26 October. In the past, Bulgarians officially finished their work in the fields on this date. While Dimitars and Dimitrinas may not be as numerous as Ivans and Georges, they still manage to pack Bulgaria’s restaurants to the rafters with their celebrations.
After this feast day, preparations gradually begin for the coming winter and its plethora of name days. November has only two of note: Archangel’s Day on 8 November, when Mihail, Rangel, Angel, and Radko have their moment of glory, followed by St Andre’s Day on the 30th.
Confused still? Don’t forget that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you don’t mind acting a little strange yourself, go ahead and join in the Bulgarians’ historic name day cycle.