When one of the three major holidays for remembering the dead rolls around, Bulgarians are transformed – from unapologetic atheists and lazy Eastern Orthodox believers to outright pagans.
Bulgarian celebrations of the major All Souls’ Days – the Saturdays before the feast of Archangel Michael, Lent, and Pentecost – seem decidedly heathen, no matter how you look at them. People go to cemeteries. They clean down their relatives’ tombs. They light candles and pour wine over the graves in the form of a cross. Then they hand out small plastic trays to their loved ones and random passers-by, murmuring “For God’s forgiveness.” The recipients respond with “May God forgive” and wander off with their goodies – a plastic cup full of boiled wheat sprinkled with powdered sugar, candy, pastries, and a small roll.
The clergy claims that this ritual is symbolic. Wheat must be scattered on the earth so that the land should be reborn on the following spring – the boiled wheat in the cup reminds the living to take care of their immortal souls. However, rank-and-file Bulgarians exchange food “For God’s forgiveness” for another reason: They believe it “feeds” the soul of the dead person, who on these days hovers somewhere near the grave.