Today 6th January is Jordan name Day or Yordan Imen Den, yet another day of celebration in Bulgaria for all those who have the name or derivative to the name Yordan. The name day is not a coincidence as the Epiphany for the Bulgarian Orthodox Churches believe that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. Therefore the name day follows this belief and they have a Great Blessing of Waters on this particular day.
I went to St Nikolai's church early this morning and witnessed the ceremony. My neighbour, who is the priest of the church, was working very hard collecting money from all the brave pilgrims that travelled to St Nikolia's Church through the cold and the snow that had started up again this morning. More money was made from the sale of candles that were lit; on average I calculated that each person bought at least three, and not the smallest and cheapest either. My neighbour should therefore have enough to feed and warm his family this winter.
This was the second day in a row were I witnessed long queues, this time however it was mostly women. Only 5 feet 10 inches tall I still stood like a giraffe dwarfing the countless Old Bulgarian women who accounted for at least 70% of the crowd there.
As with most religious occasions in Bulgaria, the church is full of regular religious devotees that attend to be blessed and experience the yearly ceremony. The blessings are made amidst pre-recorded chant that echoed around the church with an antiphonal effect it was hard to distinguish that there wasn't a live choir there. I could see lots of food and drink that had been prepared ready to serve later including big barrels of wine. After being blessed myself, I left the church which was getting even more crowded and made my way to the Tundzha River that flows through Yambol town. This was where the church procession will make its way later to give a blessing to the waters.
I waited along with hundreds of other Bulgarians, this time all men and Gypsies. After the waters had been blessed, a cross is thrown in and volunteers dive in from the bank to retrieve it. The person who gets the cross swims back with the cross gives it back to the priest. The priest then delivers another special blessing to the swimmer and his family.
I find it very strange that Gypsies made up the vast majority of volunteers who went diving into the freezing Tundzha. After all Gypsies aren't Bulgarian Orthodox, more closer to Hindu. I asked a few people why there were so many Gypsies at this festival. Most said they didn't know, but one old man said that they like the event and it was now traditional for them to do it. This surprised me in view of the far removed religious roots. I've yet to see a Gypsy in the church, they are only outside begging for money, which incidentally I experienced once again today.
It was still snowing after smiling policemen who had travelled there in a Lada Police car had roped off the diving area for the swimmers. The cross was thrown and around 12 brave young souls dived in after it, a little mayhem in the river as the scrambling began, but one young chap called Ivan a 23 year old student managed to secure the cross. To be quite honest I wouldn’t have minded having a go myself, it looked great fun, but I’m too old for this now.
Slowly the river emptied of swimmers as they made their way back up to the bridge via the river bank, having to cut some ice on the river to get there. Most were greeted with a towel and a cup of rakia, well deserved and needed. Most of us couldn’t see much as we were standing on the riverbank, only participants in the ceremony, VIPs. Mafia and official press were allowed to have privy of the final blessing. No doubt it will be on regional television this evening.
The lasting impression of Yordan Imen Den was the number of people attending these ceremonies on this otherwise ordinary Tuesday. Why aren’t they working? Why wasn’t I working? Making time for numerous celebrations, name days and festivals are built into Bulgaria’s culture – Far more important than work here.