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Varvara cooks, Sava bakes, Nikola comes with the big spoon and entertains guests

 стара фотография от началото на XX век; архив на Институт за етнология и фолклористика с Етнографски музей, Българска академия на науките

On December 4th we celebrate Saint Varvara. The holy great martyr Barbara was born at the end of the 3rd century. She was martyred for the Christian faith at the beginning of the next century.

St. Varvara in the Bulgarian folk tradition

In the Bulgarian folk tradition, Saint Varvara is the protector of children from diseases, especially smallpox. On this day, sweet cakes are prepared, which are smeared with honey and given to neighbors or people who happen to pass by the house, so that the children do not get sick. Children also have a special health ritual. They gather early in the morning in a group with an odd number of children (three, five or seven) and make a fire. Each of them brings wood for the fire and several handfuls of ripe beans, which they boil in a clay pot. Before they add salt and onion, three beans are taken out of the bean and placed on each child's knee. The beans are taken out and arranged by a child-picker - the last child in the family. His friends sit in a circle and have to eat the grains without touching them with their hands. This is believed to protect them from smallpox. The grains boiled in this way were also put on the sheep so that smallpox would not catch them. If he catches them, drive more slowly.

In some places in Bulgaria on St. Varvara makes the children jump so that Varvara does not weld them. There are rituals of lighting a fire at a crossroads that children jump over for health. The special rituals to protect against smallpox among our people were born from the fear of this disease, a frequent cause of child loss in the past.

St. Barbara is during the Christmas Lent, therefore, for this holiday, lean dishes are put on the table. The people think that she, together with St. Sava, is the sister of St. Nikola also says about her: "Varvara cooks, Sava bakes, Nikola comes with the big spoon and entertains guests."

In some regions of Bulgaria, the holiday was called Women's Christmas, because on it "barbarians" - young girls in new clothes, went around the houses and called for health and prosperity. The owners welcomed them with joy and presented them with beans, dried fruits, apples and flour.

On this day, there was a ban on doing housework. And kneading the bread for the holiday had the meaning of a rite. When the toasted "good" bread was smeared with honey, the women's prayer was the same: "May Saint Barbara help, protect children, people and goods from diseases!"

Legend of St. Barbara on our lands

There is a legend told in the writings of the Russian monk from Athos Parthenius (ed. 1856 in Moscow) and heard from him by monks from Athos Bulgarians: "... by not one and not two, but more than twenty people. And they received this tradition from ancient times and from their great-grandfathers." According to this legend, St. Barbara, a Bulgarian by birth, was born in today's Bulgarian lands, in the village of Eleshnitsa, called Iliopolis at that time. The martyr, for accepting Christianity, without the knowledge and consent of her father, was sentenced to death by beheading by her father and the governor of the city. They cut off her head in front of the baths, and her blood turned into healing mineral water. Locals say that the water started gushing out where her blood soaked into the ground. The place is still remembered today, it is called Myroto. Today, Myrrh is a healing spring, with a temperature of 57-58 degrees, and is visited by people from all over the country and abroad for healing baths. It is believed that whoever washes with the medicinal water in it can be cured of any disease.

It is assumed that there was a pagan sanctuary near the healing spring, which later grew into a Christian shrine. It can be seen near the built chapel. The entire area has long been known by the name of St. Varara. Large stones can be seen above, piled up like a herd. It is assumed that these are the remains of the tower where the saint stood, who paid with her head for the acceptance of the Christian faith.

"May Saint Barbara come to your aid, protect children, people and goods from diseases!"

📸 old photography from the beginning of the 20th century; archive of the Institute of Ethnology and Folkloristics with Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

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