On December 24, we gather on Christmas Eve. Bulgarians also call it Dry Christmas, Little Christmas, Krachun, Children’s Christmas, Little Christmas, Nayadka.
It is one of the most important family holidays, as well as the day before the birth of Christ. Then the forty-day Christmas fasts, which began on November 15, end. According to some folk beliefs, the Mother of God gave birth to Christ on Christmas Eve, but announced it the next day.
The whole family gathers at the table on Christmas Eve. According to custom, it is always arranged around the hearth. Meals must necessarily be lean and, according to most beliefs, an odd number. Their number is: 7 – as many days of the week or 9 – as long as the women’s pregnancy lasts. There are regions in Bulgaria where 11 or 12 dishes are placed on the festive table – as many months as there are in the year. They are tinsel, boiled wheat, peppers, honey, pumpkin pie, oshav, wine, etc. Each of the dishes on the table has an important symbolism for Bulgarians.
Ritual breads are of three types – dedicated to Christmas, to village crafts and for carolers. They are kneaded accompanied by rituals and songs. The woman of the house says a prayer, and then the bread with the silver coin is broken.
In some parts of the country, dogwood is also stuffed into the bread for health. The first piece of bread is left to the Mother of God in front of the home icon. It is believed that the luckiest person in the house will be the one on whom the coin falls. According to custom, no one should leave the table during the dinner. In addition, the table is not raised after the conclusion, so that the luck does not run away. It is believed that the deceased then come to eat.
Before sitting down to the table, or as is the custom of the ground, however, the dinner must necessarily be incensed. It is a custom where the oldest man or woman in the home incenses the table. After that, the owner goes around all the other rooms and premises in the home. Finally they go outside and go through the whole yard and the barn. According to popular belief, the ritual of burning incense drives away evil and impure forces from the home.
The festive atmosphere from Christmas Eve is spilled over into Christmas night. Christmas carolers go round the homes and bless their owners. They roam the homes in groups, always going in an easterly direction. In every home they perform songs for glorification of the owners and for auspiciousness.