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Silent Night, Holy Night


Guest blog post by BORYANA ZENTNER The night of fulfilled wishes or so-called “Christmas Eve”, is possibly the most favorite holiday, in Bulgaria. This is not only because the whole family gets together but also because the cooking of the meal is a whole ritual. Usually it takes few days for the food to be prepared, which requires dedication and love. If you're lucky to spend the holidays in the countryside, you will feel inner peace, calm and become one with nature. One of these places is a village in Rodopi (Rhodope) mountain called Zornitsa (“Morning star”). It is named after the brightest star in the sky, Venus.

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The village has a handful of houses scattered in between the folds of the mountain, in such way that from every house you can see all the other houses. It is impossible to go unnoticed, walking in the small snow paths between the houses, going from one old wooden gate to another.

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A couple of old men are coming down from the woods, carrying a freshly cut Christmas tree. Don't worry, the forest is full of trees. And it is so thick in places, that it needs trimming. The air is filled with the smell of burning wood from the fireplaces. The snow crunches underneath your feet and the sky, oh the sky, is covered with thousands of stars, big and bright. Christmas Eve is when they decorate the Christmas tree and afterward the presents are put underneath. Sadly, there are only eight old women and three old men left in the whole village and everybody is preparing to celebrate together. The interesting thing about this village is that it is mostly Muslim. Around five hundred years ago, people in this part of the mountain have been forcefully converted to Islam by the Turks who were occupying the land at that time. Even now, five centuries later, Christian traditions are still alive and everyone is getting ready to celebrate Christmas Eve. The old woman are preparing traditional vegetarian meals and putting uneven number of prepared dishes on the table. There is a special spot for the ritual bread, which is made with baking soda. In different parts of Bulgaria, they put different symbols in this bread. In some places they only put a coin, in other places both a coin and a button – symbolizing land. In village Zornitsa, they also put small pieces of paper with fortunes written on them. By tradition, the eldest in the house breaks the bread and gives a piece to everybody at the table. The first piece is always for the virgin Mary and if that piece happens to have the coin that means that the whole family is going to prosper.

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Here is a story they told us in the village, which comes as an answer to our question, “How did they manage to preserve Christian traditions?” Tens of years ago a Muslim family from the village made a difficult decision to immigrate abroad. They sold their house and with the rest of their belongings left for the border. At the border cross they were stopped for inspection. In their luggage they found a sealed box, the border control wanted to know what was in it. They told them, that they had never opened it before. They only knew that there is a relic in it, guarding the family for generations, but it is forbidden to open it. They didn't have any other option, they had to open it. Hidden inside the box was a cross. After this discovery, the family abandoned their plans and decided to return to their home village. Wolves are howling, it is winter. Inside is warm and cozy, in the stove the wood is crackling and on the stove they are heating up homemade schnapps with honey. The smell of religious incense is everywhere, they use them to bless the table and then bless the whole house and this would chase away the evil spirits. After the traditional holiday dinner, the table is left untouched until the next morning, as an offering for the next year to be plentiful and successful. You also can put a couple of Bulgarian dishes on your table on this holy night – soda bread with dip. This will give a welcome addition to the rest of your meals and the red wine. Also, to add more emotion and surprise to your evening, you can put a coin in the soda bread and then break it into pieces and see who will get the surprise. So, let's make a toast, with glasses full of wine, for happiness, good health and success in the new year! Recipes:

Baking Soda Bread

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500 g of flour 300 ml of lukewarm water 2 tblsp of vinegar 1 tsp of salt 1 tblsp of sugar 1 tsp of baking soda 2 or 3 tbsp of cooking oil

Preparation: Mix the flour with the salt. In a cup, mix the vinegar, baking soda, sugar and add water. Make a well in the middle of the flour, pour in the cooking oil and a little bit of water. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, until it's soft and sticky. Let rest for 10 minutes, then shape as desired. Stick in the coin. Sprinkle flour in the baking pan, and put the bread in it. Preheat the oven to 200°C and bake for 40-50 minutes. After it is done, spread cooking oil all over the crust, sprinkle some seasoned salt, paprika and wrap it in a towel. Serving: The eldest breaks the bread to pieces and the first piece is for the home and every other piece is for the members of the family. Whoever gets the coin is going to be blessed and will bring the money in to the family.


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1 head of garlic 1 cup of ground walnuts 2 slices of bread 1 coffee cup of olive oil Salt and vinegar, by taste.

Preparation: Press the garlic and then sprinkle some salt to your taste. Add the walnuts. Soak the bread in water. Squeeze the water out of it and add it to the mixture. Mix everything together while you are slowly pouring in the olive oil. Add the salt and vinegar by taste. We wish you a wonderful holiday season!