Koleda

Merry (belated) Christmas! As you probably know, I went to Rila to spend the holidays with my host family from training. But the weekend before I was in the old HUB (combined training with COD and YD) site in Dupnista. There were several other volunteers and it was great seeing everyone again. On Christmas Eve, I set out to Rila, getting in around noon.

Rila

I had forgotten how much I ate while living with my host family. Sure enough, during the first six hours I had been fed three meals! The PCV who stayed with them before me was also there. I was impressed, as well as my host family, how good my Bulgarian has gotten. We had several long, fluid conversations. It was odd being back in a place that was so familiar and it seemed like forever ago that I left.
That evening, we had a large dinner together. My host mother had baked a special bread with a one Lev coin in it. She read a prayer and split up the bread, one piece for everyone and one which was set aside. The person who found the coin would have good luck during the new year. I found the coin in my piece and I was instructed not to clean the bread off it, not to spend it and to keep it somewhere in my apartment.

Later, my host mother lit incense, and took it around the house to “chase out the devil”. We then began a very large meal with plenty of juice, wine and rakiya. For desert, we had banitsa, which is a type of sweet pastry. In each piece was hidden a fortune for the next year. One of mine foretold I would get a promotion at work as well as a raise. I couldn’t help laughing, where can I go and what raise can I get? I’m a volunteer! We then exchanged presents. I gave my host family a bottle of rakiya made from roses (Bulgaria is world renown for its roses. In fact, rose rakiya is the original rakiya which was the left overs from rose perfumes made by monks long ago). They were exicited; they had never had it before. It’s just as strong as the home made stuff they make but it goes down much much smoother. They gave me “Ocean Adventure Club” brand deodorant and shaving cream.

On Christmas morning, I was awaken by gunfire. Not something you’d expect on Christmas but it steams from original meaning of a Bulgarian Christmas: the pig slaughter. Bulgarian for Christmas is “Koleda” which comes from “kolya” or “to slaughter”. (this is a little disturbing when you realize that Diyado Koleda (Grandfather Christmas/Santa Claus) is really “Grandfather slaughter”). Christmas isn’t much of a big celebration here. This is expected because Christmas was banned under Communism and had to be practices underground. It is surprising, however, to see how prevalent Santa is. After the fall of the Berlin Wall 17 years ago, Western companies have marketed him all over the place, though not nearly as much as back home. Speaking of which, one of the nice things about the Christmas season here is how it doesn’t overwhelm the senses. In the US, Christmas music starts to pop up after Halloween and then explode after Thanksgiving. But here, it’s much more calmer. In fact, Christmas lights didn’t start going up around town until mid-December. I didn’t see Christmas trees on sale until the 21st! (That by the way I find a bit odd. How do you find a market for that? I mean, after 45 years of state sponsored atheism, how strange must it see someone selling trees to put in your house for a holiday that you may have never celebrated!?)

Back to Rila. I woke up and it didn’t feel like Christmas. True, I was with friends, but it wasn’t the same without family and holiday traditions I know (sans shotguns). Chatted with my host mom for a bit. I got a txt message from another PCV, Cindy, wishing my host family a Vesela Koleda. My host mother immediately invited her over for Christmas dinner. I then went walking around town with the other PCV. I had coffee with Dancho, the police officer I worked on a community project with during training. He was also impressed how much my language has improved and I carried the entire conversation on in Bulgarian instead of the Bulg-lish I had used several months ago. He told me that the project we had implemented was a huge success. I then went off to the house one of my PCVs I trained with. Her family had killed a pig (and I could see the blood and a some intestines in the front yard). Inside was a huge feast with several members of her host family’s extended family.

Banquet after the pig slaughter

Everyone there was blown away by the fact that there were Americans out there that could speak Bulgarian! I had a grant time with them, eating pork which had be alive only three hours prior and drinking home made wine and rakiya.

Dimitar

That evening I had another large meal with my host family, the other PCV and Cindy. It was good having everyone together. I thanked my host mother profusely for everything she has done for me, getting me acclimated to Bulgaria and inviting me to her home for Christmas. She only said “Molya. Za nistho” (You’re welcome. It was my pleasure).

I didn’t have my camera with me for most of the weekend (a lack of foresight on my part). My good friend Thomas took several photos which can be seen on his entry here. Be sure to look at other B-22 blogs and see photos of the PCVs who did go to a slaughter.

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One Response to “Koleda”

  1. Christmastime! « Chronicling Bulgaria Says:

    […] By Jimmy This is my second Christmas (Коледа) in Bulgaria (my first is here). This Christmas season has largely snuck up on me since I’m well adjusted to life in […]

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