GERGYOVDEN (St Georges Day) – May 6:One of the biggest feast in Bulgaria
Name day of everyone named Georgi (George), Gergana, Ginka, Gina, Galya, Ganka, Gancho, Gyuro/a, Gyurga, Gotse.Georgi is the second most popular name in Bulgaria.
Ritual dishes on the feast table should include: roast lamb, ritual bread, fresh milk, feta cheese prepared with such milk, yogurt prepared with such milk, fresh garlic, boiled wheat, butter-and-cheese-filling pastry /pita/, eggs.
The national feast Gergyovden (St Georges Day), called by different versions of the name in the different parts of the country: Gergyuvden, Gyurgyovden, Gergevden, Jourjovden, is dedicated to the Christian saint St George, which is considered by the national beliefs to be the guardian of shepherds and herds. The name “Georgius” in Greek has the meaning of “farmer”.
St Martyr George the Victorious is respected and renowned both by Christians and Muslims. According to the popularized life of the saint, George was born in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Having a bright education for his time, at an age of just 20, he was given a high military rank as a talented army leader. Son of well-to-do parents, he becomes an ardent believer in the Christian Faith. Being a strong supporter of Christianity, he was severely tortured and decapitated in 288, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284-305). George has been turned into the paragon of the “ideal Christian warrior” and the patron saint of the war and the army. The popular beliefs and legends describe St George as the Dragon fighter – which is usually displayed in each icon of the holy saint.
The roots of the Gergyovden feast has to be looked back into an ancient pagan feast, dedicated to the sheep and goats, and their first milking. In their traditional feast calendar, the cult to St George is rich in complex rituals, connected to his constant dreams of better life, richer and happier.
The typical animal-breeding rituals and customs interweave with rituals connected to farming and old customs for ensuring health and prosperity. In the spring night prior to the feast, young unmarried women and girls gather flowers and herbs in the field, ritually feeding the sheep and the cattle with them, and they make three wreaths from those flowers and herbs: the first one is for the sheep that will be milked first; the second one is for the lamb that will be offered to the saint; and the third one is for the vessel with the milk. The house, the barns, agricultural buildings, granaries, then they danced “horo” (i.e. typical Bulgarian round chain dance) but only leading in the left direction, then the “bathe” in the morning dew, pick bear branches and nettle and they decorate their house front doors, the barn, the cellar, cattle-shed and the sheep pen, and they light candles and they drink three sips of “silent water” – as a cure.
Special place on the table is attributed to the ritual Gergyovden bread. All sorts of bread are made for the feast – the cross bread, the shepherd’s bread, the large ring-bread, as well as small ones, or the special ring-shaped bun baked by the young wife in the house. Right before dawn, the shepherds take the herds out for a short graze. When they come back, after the sunrise, they perform the ritual milking of the sheep. Each Gergyovden there is a ritual offering of a young lamb to the patron saint (which is called “kurban”) – the lamb is butchered after being ritually fed and decorated with a Gergyovden wreath of a mulberry branch woven with nettle and some red thread.
The 6th May is also the day of Bulgarian Army, so if you are in Sofia you can see the parade.