“The Kouma” (The Leader) is a custom which is respected in the town of Saedinenie. The ritual is performed on St Lazar’s Day and Palm Sunday (Willow Day) and has over 100 years of history. It is unique and differs from the rest of St Lazar’s rituals by the specific character of the costumes worn and the performance itself. The costumes are absolutely authentic and are passed down from generation to generation. The Kouma (the leader) herself stands out from the rest of the girls by her specific costume.
The Kouma is a spring women’s custom in which the girls go from house to house and sing songs for health and fertility. The songs are authentic, marry and playful. The preparations for the holiday begin as early as St Todor’s Day when the girls get together and elect the Kouma (the leader) by lot. Afterwards, every Sunday, they perform a ring dance (horo) on the lawn closest to her house. After visiting the houses, on St Lazar’s Day and Palm Sunday (Willow Day), people from the town make a big horo (ring dance) in the square. There, it is very important to watch how the single young men and women pair up. Thus, the ritual turns into a holiday for the whole town.
Another traditional custom of the region is “The Koudy”. This is a winter men’s custom which reflects young men’s attitude towards labour and work. Dressed up, young men visit girls’ houses in order to demonstrate their health, stamina and readiness for labour. In this way, every young man takes the opportunity to visit the house of his beloved girl, to meet her parents and show his attitude and respect for her, which is expressed by dancing and exchanging playful jokes. “The Koudy” custom takes two days. The visits to the houses start in the evening before St Vassil’s Day, goes on throughout the whole of the night, and finishes on the following day in the late afternoon with ring dances and merrymaking for all people.
"St Todor’s Day"
On the borderline between the winter and spring, people celebrate another typical Bulgarian holiday – St Todor’s Day. In people’s imagination, St Todor’s Day is associated with Saint Todor (Theodore), one of the three bright dragon warriors, who, having mounted a beautiful white horse, with a spear in his hand, chases the dark powers on Earth away. On this day, a lot of horse races are held – with horses pulling carts or chariots. The most attractive part, however, is the horse race, or, “koushia”. On St Todor’s Day, women bake and give away a lot of ritual buns and loaves for the health of the horses and fertility throughout the year.
“Sourva” and “Lazarki”
The customs “Sourva” and “Lazarki” are celebrated in quite an impressive and attractive way in the village of Pravishte. “Sourva” is a winter holiday, popular in the whole of Bulgaria. It is celebrated on 1 January. The main ritual performed on the Sourva is the so-called “survakane” – tapping everybody on the back with cornel-tree twigs adorned with brightly coloured threads and dried fruit, pronouncing words of blessing for health and fertility.
The ritual comes down to the following: the sourvakari (boys aged 4-12, or single young men) visit houses and tap the householders on their backs, as well as the cattle they own, wishing everyone a lot of health and fertility. In return, they are gifted by the householders with food, money and a good treat. For the ritual table, rich dishes are prepared – pork, banitsa (cheese pastry), or a round loaf of bread with a coin, in which they put good-luck charms (cornel-tree buds - for the health and fertility of the farm, the cattle, the well-being of the house and the hosts, as well as for wealth), a boiled hen or turkey, a cake with honey, wheat, nuts and stewed dried fruit.
6 January – Jordan’s Day, Epiphany
This holiday is connected with the faith in the purifying and healing power of the water, as well as the baptizing of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. After church service in the morning, water is solemnly blessed with a cross and prayer. The priest throws a wooden cross into a river, lake or sea and young men jump into the icy cold water to take it out. Whoever reaches the cross first and brings it back to the priest receives money and blessing from him. It is believed that God will give the winner health for the whole year.
Saint Trifon is believed to bethe patron saint of vineyards and vine-growers, and this holiday is celebrated in his honour. The traditions require that bread should be made, a hen slaughtered, boiled and stuffed with rice or wheat. On this day, men go to the vineyard, make the sign of the cross, take a knife, and everybody cuts off three sticks from three vine trunks. Then, they make the sign of the cross again, and pour the wine they had brought over the vines. This ritual is called zaryazvane (pruning).
Next, all people get together and elect “the King of the Vineyards”. This is followed by a rich feast. The King is wearing wreaths made of vine sticks – one on his head, and another one over his shoulders. The King gets on a chariot. The vine-growers pull the chariot and, accompanied by bagpipes, gadulkas (national string instruments) and drums, head for the village. There, they stop outside each house. The hostess brings wine in a whitepot and gives the King to drink first, then treats each member of the king’s suite. The rest of the wine is splashed over the King and the following words of blessing are pronounced, “May the year be fruitful! May we enjoy overflowing affluence!” The King responds to the blessing by “Amen!” After he reaches his own house, the King gets changed in new clothes and, decorated with the wreaths on the head and over the shoulders, joins a big table for a feast, welcoming the people from the whole village.
Enyo’s Day is the holiday of herbs, medicine men and herb-gatherers, celebrated on 24 June. It is believed that on Enyo’s Day all herbs and grasses reveal their strongest healing power, especially at sunrise. That is why, the best time to pick them is very early in the morning. Before sunrise women gather herbs and use them for healing.