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Bulgarian Easter Eve traditions

Veliko Tarnovo


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At about 23:45, after we'd returned from Ruse and rested a while, Emma and I walked round the corner to the cathedral. I'd heard about an Easter tradition Bulgarians have, so we wanted to have a look for ourselves!

Inside the cathedral there was no service going on, but it was filling up with people. A guy was selling candles inside the church. I looked in my wallet and saw I only had about 30 stotinki, enough for one of the smaller candles. I bought one but Emma couldn't because she didn't have any cash on her at all.

Soon the church was so crowded with people we could barely move. The church lacked pews, so we stood along with the others; as the clock ticked towards midnight I noticed an atmosphere of heightened excitement and expectation in the air. I wished I could take a photo, but didn't dare. Then, two minutes before midnight, the lights in the giant hanging candelabra turned off. The murmur quietened. At midnight two priests emerged from a door in the iconostasis with lighted candles and the people near to them crowded forward. Once people had lit their candles, they squeezed their way outside, where there were many other people waiting. I waited for the church to empty a bit and then as the priest moved toward the exit behind me, I lit my candle from his as he went past me. It almost immediately went out, however, so I had to re-light it from the candle of a lady ahead of me in the queue for the exit.

Meanwhile, Emma had left the church through another exit and gone round to the front, in order to see me coming out with my candle. She took a picture of me as I emerged. There was a tiny wooden stage outside the exit; the priests stood there, reaching down for people to light their candles, whilst those of us who'd been inside the church emerged and went straight down the steps on each side. Although I'd cupped my candle flame with my hands to prevent the wind blowing it out, after about a minute the wind succeeded. I re-lit it from the priest's candle, but then it went out again soon after.

Emma and I then went to the back of the crowd and just watched for a while. The priests chanted and swung incense whilst bells clanged.

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Eventually we wandered over to the side of the church which looks out over the same side of the hill as my flat does. Just as we got to the railing, fireworks started exploding over Tsarevets Fortress!

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Once the fireworks had finished, we turned round so we were facing the church again and watched people processing round it, anticlockwise, with their lit candles. We walked back round to where the crowd was and watched the crowd and the priests again for a bit. The bells started clanging a very particular tune over and over again. I hear the same bells clang this tune quite often - several times a week - but this time it lasted longer.

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Then we walked down the road to the plaza in front of Tsarevets, just to see what was going on there. There had been a service going on at the church tower there, and now hundreds of people were processing across the bridge with their candles. It was a grand and beautiful sight. There was a table set up and a woman standing next to it, handing out small plastic bags to the people as they emerged onto the plaza. She gave me and Emma ones too - they had a dyed boiled egg and a large slice of Easter bun inside. As she gave me the bag, she said 'Hristos vozkrese!' (Christ is risen!'). I couldn't remember what the official response was to that (apparently it's 'Vo eesteena vozkrese' - 'Truly he has risen'), so I just said 'blagodariya' (thank you) instead. Boiled and dyed/ painted eggs are cracked together after midnight, a bit like conkers; whoever's egg doesn't crack, gets good luck.

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We walked back to the flat after that, really happy about our experience. When we looked out of my windows, in the distance we could still see lights moving down the hill of Tsarevets and across the bridge.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged cathedral sisters bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress traditional_customs easter_celebrations

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