Christians in Bulgaria are primarily Eastern Orthodox, however, since 1968 Bulgaria has celebrated Christmas on 25 December instead of 7 January as in other Orthodox countries. This is because the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria switched from the Old to the Revised Julian Calendar, which follows the West’s Gregorian Calendar at many points.
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The Christmas season in Bulgaria begins with Advent, the 40-day period of fasting that commences in mid-November. The highlight is Christmas Eve when the main festive meal is enjoy with family, and the season continues in some respects up until traditional Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.
After dinner on Christmas Eve, many will attend a midnight church service, and on Christmas Day, a second festive dinner is often eaten. This second meal will have meat as the main course, typically some kind of pork dish.
A Bulgarian legend says that Mary actually gave birth to baby Jesus on Christmas Eve but did not announce his birth to the world until Christmas Day. The legend also claims that she was in labour for five days, beginning on 20 December, which is Saint Ignatius of Antioch Day and the traditional Bulgarian New Year.
There are a number of old superstitions associated with Christmas in Bulgaria. First, there should be an odd number of dishes and of people at the Christmas Eve table. Walnuts are consumed in great numbers, and the size and condition of the walnut you eat can predict your fortunes for the coming year. Also, a coin is baked into a Christmas loaf, and whoever gets the slice of bread containing the coin will have good luck.
For farmers, straw under the tablecloth and a wooden plows behind your door are thought to encourage a good harvest in the year to come. Finally, the Christmas Eve dinner table must be left uncleared till morning so deceased relatives’ spirits can dine during the night if they so wish.