Unlike most Eastern European countries, Bulgaria uses the Georgian Calendar, and as a result celebrates Christmas on December 25 rather than on January 7. But for many Bulgarians, preparations begin 40 days ahead of time on November 15 with the kickoff of Advent.
According to Bulgarian legend, Mary gave birth to Christ on December 24, but didn’t announce the birth until the 25th. As a result, many of the country’s traditions centre around Christmas Eve (December 24). On this night, it’s common for families to gather to have a final feast in observance of Advent.
The meal is traditionally vegetarian and an odd number of dishes must be served to an odd number of people around the table. The dishes are a multi-course meal of bean soup, stuffed peppers, boiled wheat, pastries, dried fruit, and walnuts. After the meal is served, the dishes are left on the table until the next morning as an offering to the spirits of deceased relatives.
At the stroke of midnight, groups of young, male carollers—or Koledari—dressed in traditional costumes start going house to house to sing songs and offer wishes for wealth, health, and good luck for the upcoming year. Once they have finished singing, they are invited inside to enjoy pastries and festive beverages.
In cities like Sofia, many businesses and homes decorate with festive Christmas lights and traditional Christmas markets pop up offering food, drink, and gifts for purchase. Because Bulgaria is also well-known for its mountains and winter sports, many people also enjoy flocking to some of the country’s many resorts to go skiing and relax with friends and family. The ski season doesn’t last as long in Bulgaria as some of its neighbouring countries, so the holidays are considered prime-time to experience the many natural wonders the country has to offer.