Ignazhden – Christmas is coming!
Ignazhden is among the holidays that are celebrated across Bulgaria, and thus is known under many names. In Northern Bulgaria, the day of St. Ignatii is known as Ignazhden, Idinak (Loner). In Southern Bulgaria, the day is known as Idignazhden, Ignatyovden (in the Rodopi mountains), Polaz, Polyazovden (in the Kotlen region).
St. Ignatii Bogonosets was born and lived in the II-nd century. He was among the many students of Ioan Bogoslov and took care for the archbishopric in Antyoch. Similarly to many devoted Christians, he was persecuted and captured. His death was a martyr’s one – he dies, torn apart by wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum.
On December 20th, the nation celebrates a peculiar for the region type of Christmas. The people in Eastern Bulgaria, for example, enjoy a strictly lenten meal.
With the day of St. Ignatii begin the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. A symbol of that beginning is the custom “polazvane”. This custom symbolizes turning to the future and the things that await you in the next year.
And what is the “spolez”? This is luck. The first guest to cross the home’s threshold is of exceptional importance, because his personality will determine the future of the family and the household. The traditional saying “On St. Ignatii’s day, you don’t visit anyone!” has it’s reasons. People of old days feared that someone who has bad luck would cross their thresholds on that day.
For the same reason, people that are considered lucky and bring a good “polaz”, receive an invitation in the form of a flask of rakia (strong alcohol) the day before Ignazhden, to come over the next day and bring luck to the family.
The Bulgarian beliefs do not end with symbolism. The ritual is also important. When the “spolaznik” person enters the host’s yard, he must congratulate for the new year. After he enters the house, he takes a stick from the wood-shed and starts to stir the fireplace, chanting the following words: “Sparks as many as your calves, horses,…”.
Another part of the tradition dictates the guest “spolaznik” to first sit on the seating straws that the hosts bring him. He sits there for a while, symbolizing the frequent sitting on eggs of the hens for the next year.
After that, the “spolaznik” is given a sieve and some wheat. He powders the house a little and blesses “May it grow where the plough passed through, and even where it didn’t”.
The hosts repay the “spolaznik” for his good deeds, and shower him with gifts – wheat, dried fruits, and in some regions – a shirt, a towel, socks or incensed wool.
Ignazhden isn’t over with the “spolaznik” traditions. This day signifies a new beginning. The saying goes, that this day is good for predictions. On the day of St. Ignatii, girls predict their marriages. The ritual goes like this: the girl sits on the wood-shed and pours a little barley over her, chanting: “The one of my luck, may he come to his house tonight and marry me!” Then she takes splinters in one hand and barley in the other, and enters the house. She leaves the splinters by the fireplace, and the barley – under her pillow. The man that comes to her dreams that night will be her future husband.
On December 20th, the tradition dictates that women don’t work. If that is not possible, the restriction goes only to the pregnant women. The saying goes that the pregnant women that don’t work will give an easy birth. The tradition not to give work to girls on December 20th comes from religion, because it was the day when the throes of the Virgin Mary began.
On Ignazhden, the chimenys are cleaned and the broom gets thrown away along with the soots. Incensed wheat are sprinkled around the house. These things get done to keep the evil magicians away.
On this day, the “Koledari” (carol-singers) gather to practice their carols. One of them speaks of the throes of the Virgin Mary that begin on Ignazhden.
Many other interpretations of traditions on this day exist across Bulgaria.