Bulgarian Sirni Zagovezni – Shrove Sunday
Bulgarians celebrated on Sunday “Sirni Zagovezni”, a popular Orthodox Christian holiday. Sirni Zagovezni is celebrated to mark the end of winter and the last week before the Great Lent. It combines pagan traditions and Christian beliefs. It is a time of celebration and joy as well as cleansing and renewal.
It takes place seven weeks before Easter, and marks the beginning of the longest period of fasting.
According to the ancient Christian tradition, on that day people beg each other forgiveness for their wrong-doings during the year. Usually the younger ask the older for forgiveness and are also asked to forgive on the part of their parents, relatives, friends or just the people they live or work with.
In the past a special custom was being performed in the evening. A piece of halva was tied on a long thread, hanging from the ceiling (a hard-boiled egg or some coal is an alternative). The thread is swayed around in a circle and the participants keep on trying to catch the lump in their mouth.
As a part of its celebration big ritual fires are lit. The young men would jump over the fire “for health”. It was believed that the one who jumped farthest would be the first to get married in the forthcoming autumn.
In some parts of the country the young men would fling burning wooden arrows with special devices made for the purpose. This was done from the surrounding hilltops, for the arrows had to fall exactly in the yards they were directed at.
The training for this would start on January 18, the Day of St Athanasius (Father of Orthodoxy). Each arrow was dedicated to someone, be it father, mother, or sweetheart. It would be mostly to young ladies who waited in the yards with pots full of water at hand, for the arrows were a sign of love. The girl who collected the largest number of arrows was considered to be the most beautiful and desirable young lady in the village.
The Bulgarian villages have preserved the “Kukeri” ritual, in which the masked Kukeri dance in the last days of the winter, just before nature is reborn. The participants in this ritual are usually men, dressed in sheepskin garments and wearing scary masks and chanove (copper bells) attached to their belts, dancing and singing songs, and chants, with the intention to scare away the evil spirits or ghosts which people believed came back to the living ones in winter.
On this day Bulgarians usually eat banitza with cheese and white halva.
Contrary to the Orthodox Christian tradition to celebrate Sirni Zagovezni always on Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrates it on Tuesday, 40 days prior to Easter.