Christmas Eve Celebrations in Bulgaria

Christmas Eve is the biggest celebration in the Bulgarian calendar and so it was this evening in Yambol town. Having been through a few Christmases here in Bulgaria now, both in town and country, I look forward to Christmas rather than holding my head in my hands from the stress. There is absolutely no rush, no pressure and certain no pretence as families gather for the Christmas Eve celebration around the country.

Traditions still hold fast here, even though pressures from an invading western influence are now firmly in the veins of the country and will increase and spread as each year passes, for now, we have evaded the consumer Christmas that is the norm for millions of people worldwide now.

The traditions are many and would take quite a detailed account to cover all customs that we when though, so I have just put some basics that when on in Yambol this evening, so simple, community based and spiritually uplifting for all. There is never any point where the meaning of Christmas leaves our minds throughout the celebrations as the symbols of Christmas are in the presentation and food that is before us all evening (and a big chunk of the morning).

Before we left we had to make sure we took out slippers, again this is normal here taking your own footwear as guests in other Bulgarian homes. We gave the small gifts to each other before we left, as in practical Bulgarian tradition is actually more practical rather than dragging them to another apartment.

The food in the main is all home grown and prepared by hand with non-meat factor being the tradition this evening. Fast from eating meat prior to midnight is expected, however this has been watered down slightly as before the fasting of meat would have been over a period of 40 days, this just doesn’t happen here now and for most it is just for the day or for a few days.

Just as we left, it started snowing with all the food in carrier bags it his was bad timing and by the time we got there we looked like a crowd of snowmen entering the bock and left a big puddle of water in the lift as we left arrived on the fifth floor and the warmth of our hosts.

All home produced food consisted of:

Cabbage and bean stew

Traditional Boiled Wheat
Boiled Potato and Leek salad

Cauliflower and carrot pickle

Raw Leek sliced






2 Litres grape

Later on, still before midnight though:

Tikvanik (pumpkin banitsa) and Apple Sponge Cake

With all this home grown and made food/drink, it was only the bread and peanuts that were purchased!

Before any food or drink consumes the eldest member of the family, Baba in this instance, had to say grace with as all stood up to attention. There were many Icons of Christ as a permanent fixture on the wall in the apartment and these were focussed on during this short, but important beginning of this evening. Once the formalities were over the evening unfolded.

Normal in Bulgaria is the TV on in the background, used for music background rather than anything else. Talking, laughing, eating, drinking, dancing went on and on and on until 4:00. In fact the food was so good and plentiful that we didn’t even bother to get the meat dishes that are normally served after 12:00. We all had a joyous Christmas Eve where it is just simple pleasures that remain the most important factor, that’s what makes it so special.

It was Christmas Day treading the Yambol streets back home a few hours before sunrise all arm in arm going at Baba’s pace. Family bonds are wonderfully strong here and this was felt throughout the evening with the biggest Bulgarian celebration of the year.