Friday, 14 February 2014

Trifon Zarezan Den

St Valentine's Day
Not only is February 14th the normal St Valentine's Day, but here in Bulgaria there are a couple of other things that I have to remember. One thing that I always have to avoid forgetting is that it is also Net's birthday. Although Net does keep saying that she doesn't want a fuss, she has even gone so far as to hide her birthday on Facebook. It hasn't worked, well about as well as me hiding mine from Facebook did. So even just for birthdays February has always been a busy month. Here in Bulgaria, especially in the villages, today is St Trifon's Day. He is the saint associated with vines and wine.

Or Is It?
It does seem to be a more practical celebration, rather than the overly commercialised Valentine's Day. These celebrations to the vines and to wine are rooted in history. Many claim that they are similar in style to the old pagan rituals that the Thracian's held in honour of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. It also marks the end of Winter and the coming of Spring. Depending on which calendar you use St Trifon's Day can fall on one of two days. If you use the old calendar its on the 1st, for the more modern outlook it is today. Many, quite sensibly, hedge their bets and celebrate on both days.

The Traditional Way
As in most cases there are always regional variations which happen, but it seems to be a day long celebration wherever it happens. People get up early on these days, although that is nothing unusual in the many villages throughout Bulgaria. The men head off out to the vineyards outside of the villages, as it is only men who are supposedly to prune the vines. On entering the vineyard the man turns to face the rising sun, and makes the sign of the cross three times. He then cuts three twigs from different vines. The places where these three cuts are made are then washed with red wine, holy water and wood ash from a fire which was burnt on Christmas Eve. Prayers for an abundant harvest are spoken as the pruning takes place, hoping to gain favour with whichever spirit actually looks after the vines. The cut pieces of vine are woven into a wreath which is either worn across the shoulder or adorns a wine flask. Later it will be placed in front of the house icon. Any trees which have not borne fruit the previous season are ritualistically threatened to be cut down if they don't produce this year.

Washing The Cut Vine Stems With Red Wine
In some regions three hot coals are taken from the hearth, and these are used to indicate which crops will be good in the coming season. The coals are also symbolic as they represent the warmth of the sun. Then there is much eating, drinking and singing in the middle of the vineyard. Whichever man's vines produced the most grapes at the last harvest is declared King. Which seems to be another excuse for more drinking of wine. If wine is spilt it doesn't matter, as whatever is drunk or spilt on the ground all goes towards ensuring a good harvest for this season. It is something that many villagers put a lot of emphasis on.

The King
Even during the evening the villagers gather at the 'King's' house, where more eating, drinking, dancing and singing is carried out. Reading the previous bits and pieces you might think that it is all just a male thing, trying to ensure a bountiful harvest. While the men are in the vineyards the women are also busy in the home. Special round loaves are made, which symbolise a fertile field. These are passed out and shared with friends, neighbours and relatives. Special festive breads decorated with grapes and vine leaves are also quite popular. Today is not a day to be a chicken, especially not a black one. A chicken is stuffed and roasted, some will be eaten in the vineyard and some at the evening's celebration at the King's house.

Traditional Round Bread Made By Petya Rainova
So today is a day about trying to ensure that the coming year is a fruitful one for the whole village or community. It is easy to make assumptions about the old pagan fertility rites, and how with the onset of Christianity many such celebrations were claimed and adjusted by the Church. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that a happy village is often a more productive village. Maybe that also accounts for the three vine twigs, and the three hot coals, all used to symbolise the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This ritualistic pruning is normally the first work which is carried out on the land each year, so after the normally harsh winter people quite understandably look forward to the coming of Spring with the warmer days and new growth everywhere.

Some of you might be wondering where the 'Zarezan' comes into things. This means 'snub nosed', and by all accounts like other villagers had a vineyard. He was pruning his vines one day when the Virgin Mary happened to pass. Rather unkindly he mocked her saying that she didn't know who the father of her child was. In retaliation Mary condemned him to accidentally cut his nose with his own pruning shears. Hence the name Zarezan or snub nosed. Wine is such an important part of Bulgarian life that if you ever see an icon depicting St Trifon you will always notice that he is holding his pruning shears.      

Wishing You Well Whatever You Are Celebrating
So no matter what you choose to celebrate, there is always a good reason to celebrate something here in Bulgaria 


  1. A very warm welcome to Bob Bowden, who is the latest blog follower. Thank you for taking the time to read these blogs Bob :o)

  2. Celebrations cannot be proceed without wines! Frozen truck delivery of wines from Italy are my favorites all time for celebrations. Please share more cultures of Bulgaria, let us know more about this country.