Easter Is the Holiest Day of the Year in BulgariaBulgaria is a largely Orthodox Christian country along with the rest of the Balkans (except for Croatia) and, as such, religious devotions figure prominently in the Easter holiday. During Holy Week, some very devout Bulgarians attend church every day.
Palm Sunday Begins Holy WeekPalm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa or Vrubnitsa (Flower Day) and the faithful are given a dispensation and allowed to eat fish. Since palms aren't readily available, pussy willows are taken to church to be blessed. The branches are often fashioned into crowns by young girls and worn to church until they are thrown in a river, hopefully to be caught by their future husband on the other side. Many people named after flowers or plants, like Violeta, Roza, Lillia, celebrate their name day on Palm Sunday, and others called Velichka, Velina, Velika and Veichko have their name day on Easter day.
Holy or Maundy ThursdayEaster eggs are dyed on Maundy (Holy) Thursday or Holy Saturday. The first red egg dyed on Holy Thursday is a symbol of health and good furtune for the family and is set aside to be kept until next Easter. See how Bulgarians decorate their eggs.
Good FridayGood Friday is the anniversary of the Crucifixion, and the day when a table is set up in churches representing Christ's coffin. The faithful climb underneath in the hopes of having a year full of health and fertility.
Holy SaturdayHoly Saturday services begin at 11 p.m. Families and friends attend church together, carrying their colored eggs with them. When the clock strikes midnight, they greet each other with the words Hristos vozkrese (Christ has risen). The response is Voistina vozkrese (He has risen indeed). The priest and faithful then walk around the church three times with lit candles in hand. The belief is if one has been a good Christian, his candle will not go out no matter how strong the wind might be, because he has no sins. After services are over, the all-important "egg fight" or choukane s yaitsa takes place. Opponents smash their eggs into each other with the egg left unbroken proclaimed the winner or borak. The winning egg is kept until next Easter and is a sign of good luck.
The Fun StuffIn Bulgarian Orthodox Church tradition, the Lenten fast begins on Zagovezni, the Sunday six weeks before Easter. For the 46 days of Lent, church members abstain from all animal and fish products and byproducts, that means butter, cheese, milk, and caviar, if you can afford it!
While not a morsel is eaten before Easter Sunday, yeast-raised cakes and buns in animal shapes, and cookie rabbits and flowers are baked during Holy Week. The most important ritual bread is the braided kozunak.
On Easter Sunday, after 46 days of fast and abstinence, a feast of all the prohibited food is laid on the table, with the kozunak, symbolizing the body of Christ, taking center stage. Lamb, representing the Paschal Lamb, is always served.