All over the world, Christmas celebrations reflect local culture and traditions. The festivities can be startlingly different from country to country, focusing on different aspects of the nativity story.
But whether you're celebrating Koleda in Bulgaria or St. Lucia's Day in Sweden, you're sharing in the wonder and magic of the Christmas season. Caroling, feasting, and gift-giving along with the prayers and wishes - Christmas is celebrated with high spirits in various parts of the world. Though the mode of celebration, the dates and the traditions vary, the spirit remains the same everywhere.
In Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th
One legend in Bulgaria is that Mary started her labor on 'Ignazhden', December 20th (Saint Ignatius of Antioch's Day) and she gave birth of Christmas Eve but the birth of Jesus wasn't announced until Christmas Day. The 20th is also the traditional 'new year' in Bulgarian culture. It's traditional to eat a special ring shaped caked called 'kolaks' on this day.
Christmas Eve (called 'Badni Veche') is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening of Christmas Eve.
The meal should traditionally have an odd number of dishes in it (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table. (Salt, pepper and sugar can count as separate dishes!). It's normally a rich vegetarian meal and includes dishes made of different such as beans soup, 'sarmi' cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, different kinds of pastries (cheese, pumpkin and sweets pastries soaked in syrup), some kolaks, lots of fruits and nuts like dried plums, dried apricots, oranges and tangerines and 'oshav' a dried fruit compote. Walnuts are especially popular. If you walnut is delicious you will have a good year, but if it's empty or has a small nut you'll have a bad year! On Christmas Day some families will have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, normally some kind of pork.
Another interesting Bulgarian tradition is the Kukeri who are elaborately costumed Bulgarian men who perform traditional rituals intended to scare away evil spirits. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri walk and dance through villages to scare away evil spirits with their costumes and the sound of their bells. They are also believed to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.
Christmas Traditions in Sweden: