Programs / Feasts



St.Basil's Day or Bango Vassili (literally "Limping Vassil") is celebrated by all Romani groups in Central Bulgaria. It is generally known as the "Romani New Year." Kaldarashi and Rudari celebrate the feast more modestly unlike Yerlii, and especially Burgudjii and Drandari,who regard it as a major feast equal only to St.George's Day.

Namely Burgudjii and Drandari celebrate Bango Vassili for three days. They even make a slight difference between St.Basil's Day and Bango Vassili: St.Basil's Day is on January 13th-14th, while Bango Vassili is on January 15th. Kaldarashi, Rudari, and the rest of the Yerlii (e.g.Horohane-Roma) in Central Bulgaria do not make this distinguishing. They call "Bango Vassili" the all three days. Wer have to note as well that the evening against January 14th very often plays the role of Badni Vecher (Christmas Eve).

The celebration of Bango Vassili (St.Basil's Day) is connected with several Romani feasts. We can divide them into two types. In the first type Bango Vassil is St.Basil, protector and defender of Roma people. He restores the bridge, Roma pass through, after this bridge has been destroyed by the Devil or by God, and saves the drowning Roma. In the second type of legends Bango Vassili is a "historical" personality, a limping shepherd, who saves a drowning child or shelters a Roma chased by his enemies. At the same time there is an indirect connection between the celebration of St.Basil's Day and the legend about a covey of gooses which saves Roma from the Egyptian troops by carrying them over the Red sea. (Nunev 2000:107).

Several basic moments in the celebration of St.Basil's Day (we will use St.Basil's Day and Bango Vassili as synonyms, what they really are, for convenience) can be distinguished:

Preparation for the feast: It can start a week earlier before the day of the feast itself (January 13th). St.Basil's Day is celebrated with chicken meat: a goose (duck) for Horohane-Roma and some of the Kaldarshi groups or a rooster (hen) for Burgudjii, Drandari, and some groups of Kaldarashi. It is very rare to slaughter a lamb or even a pig for Bango Vassili. It is done mainly by Burgudjii, and especially by those families who have had a daughter-in-law or a first grandchild during the previous year.

The preparations start with buying a goose or a rooster if the family does not raise their own animals. The animal has to be bought on January 12th, the latest. It is obligatory for the offering to spend the night in the house. This is done for the luck "not to run away." In the morning of January 13th the goose or the rooster is slaughtered. The real preparations start at 14 o'clock. The setting of the table and the preparation of the decorated cornel-twig are the main concerns. The cornel-twig looks different in the different Romani groups. The common element is that the twig is made from cornel-tree. The decoration is different. It consists of popcorn, pepper, candies (Horohane-Roma) or just a simple decoration of pindari (golden coins) (Burgudjii). The Drandari from Zlataritza and Lyaskovetz do not decorate the cornel-twig.

Dinner: Bango Vassili is extremely a family feast. In all Romani groups the dinner in the evening of January 13th plays a very important role compiled of different symbolic elements. It is an obligatory element performed by all Romani groups that the door is closed when the dinner starts until midnight, none of the family is allowed to go out (even in the yard!), and no stranger is allowed to go in the house. This is one of the rare occasions when Roma refuse their traditional hospitality.

The dinner starts at different time, depending on the different groups and villages, usually between 20 and 22 o'clock. It was obligatory in the past (for some groups this element is still preserved and kept today) to have a special round table, siniya, for the evening of January 13th. They put the dishes on the siniya: boiled rooster or goose, sarmi (usually with fortune slips - cornel buds), banitza with fortune slips, richly decorated round loaf of bread (often with fortune slips) or ritual bread, kulak, wine, rakia, and so on. The Burgudjii put as well a handful of raw wheat (this is from the same wheat used for St. Nicholas' Day and Christmas) and a handful of raw rice (from the rice the rooster has been boiled with). Drandari obligatory prepare the so-called "Gypsy meal" (special Romani dish with dry gumbo and dry tomato). It is a tradition (or it rather used to be the tradition) for the Burgudjii from the quarter of Kaltinetz (Gorna Oryahovitza) and the Drandari from Zlataritza to place all family treasures on the table: gold, golden coins, jewelry… Another group of Burgudjii used to take the treasures out and bless them by leaving them for everybody to see them. Anecdotes for thefts of gold, left out by Burgudjii on Bango Vassili are still widespread among different Romani groups.

The dinner usually starts with incensing and blessing the table. The person who is doing the incensing (usually a woman) says a prayer for luck, fertility and happiness. After this the family members forgive each other by kissing hands each other. After the forgiveness the elderly people in the family (the grandmother and the grandfather) take the richly decorate round loaf of bread (or the kulak) and break it into two to "see who will have more luck during the year. The one who breaks the bigger part will be the luckier man and his luck will feed the house this year." Then the mother breaks the bread into pieces for all the children (by Drandari in Zlataritza) or the each children breaks as bigger piece as he or she can (Horohane-Roma?, Vodolei). The first mouthpiece is wrapped and placed under the pillow. It is believed that dream during this night shows what would happen to the dreamer during the forthcoming year.

There is a differentiation among the Romani groups in the customs connected with the dinner. The jocular "steeling of the duck" (Horohane-Roma, the village of Marash) is a custom where everybody tries to steal the boiled duck unnoticed from the other to be the luckiest during the year. Other Romani groups arrange kulaks one upon another and somebody from the family hides behind them, he wishes Bango Vassili to bring more kulaks during the next year, and so on.

A common element among almost all groups is not to clean the table the whole night. It is believed to bring fertility.

Welcoming Bango Vassili and the New Year: the welcoming of Bango Vassili and therefore the New Year occupies an important place in the festive structure. It is fulfilled in two ways: by survakane and by the transformation of the family head into Bango Vassili, or his messenger. The first variant is popular among all Roma (most probably a reflection of the Bulgarian folklore tradition "survakarstvo"). The second one is practices by Burgudjii and some Horohane-Roma groups (i.e. those groups who celebrate Bango Vassili more solemnly). It is always in a combination with the first one.

St.Basil's Day and the New Year come in midnight. The survakane starts from this moment on. The Kaldarashi (in Dryanovo, for example) tap with the decorated cornel-twigs only the backs of the family members, while in other Romani groups the children go around the neighbouring houses (after midnight the doors of the houses are open for visitors). The people who do the survaki wish health, fertility, and luck. Their words are usually short and simple, for instance: "Surva, surva, an year, to be safe and sound until next year" in the Burgudjii group, "Akulsa - bakulsun iere saulsun!" "Marry New Year - be safe and sound until the next year!" (Horohane-Roma), and so on.

The custom with transforming of a man into a messenger of Bango Vassili is more interesting. According to the Burgudjii tradition from the quarter of Kaltinetz, Gorna Oryahovitza, in midnight, sharp, the head of the family (or the luckiest man/woman) collects wheat and rice from the siniya, puts them in a towel, takes the towel, sourvaknitza, and a jug of water and goes to the fountain. He first taps the water, then he washes his hands and his face, fills water and goes home. From this moment on he plays the role of Bango Vassili (or his messenger).

Upon entering the house he cries out "'Vassili avala" - "Vassil came" and he throws the wheat annd the rice. The children try to get as much as possible because this is the luck St.Basil brings them. Then the sourvaki begins. First the head of the family (St.Basil's messenger) taps everybody's back for health and luck.

In the Horohane-Roma groups from the villages of Vodolei, Marash, etc, the messenger of Bango Vassili is not the head of the family, but a close relative (uncle, brother-in-law, etc.) who comes as the first guest in the morning of January 14th. The guest stops at the front door, but refuses to enter, nevertheless the admonishments of the host. He would enter on condition that a bridge, kyupri, is built. Then the host "builds" a bridge. He puts paper money on the ground in front of the guest from the front gate to the inner door. The guest (Bango Vassili) is walking limping on the so-built "bridge" and thus he enters the house.

Upon entering the house he greets the people: "Bango Vasuy ayla! Bango Vassili came. Bus selyamen byuchala tuke! He sends you his regards!" In response the host pours rakia to everyone and says: "I pray God to regard you as you have regarded me!"

All these rituals are done very solemnly because it is believed that they will bring fertility, happiness, and luck.

The Yerlii, as mentioned above, celebrate Bango Vassili for three days without cleaning the table throughout these three days. On the third day they make the so-called "crooked banitza" for the horses and the donkeys not to become lame.

In the celebration of Bango Vassili we can find all three aspects of the feast, discussed in Chapter … - metaphysical, ethno-cultural, and personal, with the full variety of sides and elements in each of them.

We have described the metaphysical function of the feast as "domestication" of time, "getting to know" future, and a "dialogue" with the supernatural by which man is trying to plead for the better to happen. What we called "domestication" of time is obvious from the mere fact that St.Basil's Day marks the beginning of the New Year. The endless changing of days, frightening with its monotony and boundlessness, is structured and organized in equal intervals, years. The beginning of this process is set by Bango Vassili.

One big part of the festive rituals and actions, we have already described, are connected with the striving to guess what would happen in the future (in our case - during the New Year). Banitza with fortune slips, the ritual bread with fortune slips, and the sarmi with fortune slips, placing the first mouthful from the bread under the pillow - all this is aimed to foretell yet in the New Year's night what would happen to a given person during the forthcoming year.

All activities and rituals performed at Bango Vassili are to the greatest degree aimed to provoke and receive health, luck, happiness, and fertility. The table remains set during he whole night for "health and fertility," the rice and the wheat thrown by Bango Vassili is collected for "luck", "crooked banitza" is made for the horses and the donkeys not to become lame, people go around tapping everybody’s back with a decorated cornel-twig wishing him to be safe and sound, and so on. It is most clearly expressed in the "transformation" of Bango Vassili aimed at "bringing" better luck.

The ethno-cultural aspect is clearly visible in the celebration of Bango Vassili. It has been often said that this is the "most Romani" feast, And even the Kaldarashi, who celebrate it simpler, agree on this. Bango Vassili differs from the Bulgarian counterpart of St.Basils’s Day not only by the date (result of the so-called "old" and "new" style of dating – Gregorian and Julian Calendar), but by the rituals as well (the sourvaki is only a small part of the overall festive system of the feast as we have already seen). The most significant difference however is the legends about St.Basil and the Limping Vassil who are inevitably connected with Roma’s destiny and their belief in salvation.

In addition, the personal aspect connected with the accepting of the feast as something "better and different" than the workday is broadly covered by the celebration of the Romani St.Basil’s Day. It can be found in all stages and details of the festive system: from buying a special animal as an offering for Bango Vassili to somebody’s transformation in Bango Vassili himself. Nevertheless the difficult and hard workdays, Roma celebrate the feast for three days and do not skimp anything to forget the trivial division and feel a part of the community. It is the custom to visit friends, relatives and neighbours on January 14th and 15th.It is an honour to accept guests, and so on. The one who plays the role of Bango Vassili (or his messenger) takes on the charisma of faultlessness… All these thins clearly demonstrate why celebrating people feel "better and different" from a personal point of view than in workday.

There is something really symbolic in the fact that Bango Vassil is the beginning of the New Year, and at the same time connected with the restoration and the building of the bridge. Four symbols interweave in the legends about Bango Vassili: the water (the river), the bridge, the destroying of the bridge and its building (restoration).

Water (the river) has played the role of a mediator between the two worlds, of the living people and the one of the dead, since ancient times. From one side it attracts and charms with its purifying power (flowing water is always a "pure place", it washes sins and sorrows); from another, however, it frightens with its endlessness and mighty, with its destroying power, with its ability to take somebody to the world of the dead.

The bridge is the other universal symbol connected with water. The bridge is not just a continuation of the ground or connecting of two banks, although it is this as well. The bridge connects earth and water joining together the purifying power of water with the safety and the predictability of the earth. The one who walks on the bridge is not the same as the one who walks on the ground: he has been purified and renewed by the passing of the bridge. Therefore, the crashing of the bridge is always a big disaster. On the other hand, its building is extremely difficult and it requires a sacrifice.

The crashing of the bridge means destroying of harmony, loosing the connection between earth and water. After the crashing of the bridge, the river becomes irresistible, destroying and wild again, taking the fallen people towards non-existence. As a result the earth turns into a waterless, dry, dead, and dirty place.

The building of the bridge is a small cosmogenesis. It always requires a sacrifice, divine or human, in order to "domesticate water" and give earth life. We can deduce from here the popular motif, both in Bulgarian and Romani folklore, of immuring a human (or his shadow) in the building of the bridge. (see: Studii Romani, vol. 3-4).

On the basis of all said above we can perceive the deep symbolism of both, the legends about Bango Vassili and the rituals of the festive system. St.Basil is the one who builds the bridge and thus, saving the Roma. He provides them with the opportunity to go on their way renewed and purified. Therefore, the day dedicated to him is expected with hope by Roma people. St.Basil’s Day (Bango Vassili) is also a bridge between the old and the New Year allowing the celebrating people to get purified from the sins and the bad things that had happened during the passed year and to enter renewed the New Year.

This symbolic can be easily seen in the whole ritual. Probably the legend about the geese which save Roma carrying them over the Red Sea (i.e. building a bridge) explains why the goose is the offering at St.Basil’s Day. It is not by accident that the head of the family who plays the role of Bango Vassili in the Burgudjii group goes first to the fountain to bring new "sourvaki" water, and just after washing his face and sins with it he starts to play the role of Bango Vassili. Furthermore, it is not by accident that the guest who plays the role of Bango Vassili among Horohane-Roma wants kyupri – "a bridge" to be built. The New Year starts with the building of the bridge and the hope for salvation and happiness.


Ihtimya, or Bashnuv Day (Rooster's Day) is celebrated by Drandari (musicians). They are a peculiar, well preserved group of Horohane-Roma. Their descent is from the region of Kotel. Big groups of Drandari immigrated years ago north of the Balkan Mountains, to the towns of Zlataritza and Lyaskovetz, the villages in Omurtag region, and to some villages in Shumen region (Ivanski, Salmanovo, and so on).

There are at least two things worth mentioning about Drandari. First, the dialect they speak is quite different from the dialect of the other Yerlii groups. Therefore, some scholars of Romani studies speak about "Drandari dialect." Second, the historical personage of Mustafa Shibiloglu, who has been made immortal by Yordan Yovkov in his novel "Shibil," had been a Gypsy from Gradetz. Nowadays Drandari have made a mythological person of Shibil presenting him as their king (See: Kolev, Krumova, Yordanov 2002: 179-181).

A great number of the Drandari are not Muslims any more although they are "Turkish Gypsies". Some of them have completely lost the memory of celebrating the Islamic feasts, the Drandari living in Zlataritza and Lyaskovetz, for example. Another group of musicians has given up Muslim religion and has converted to Christianity. They, however, celebrate both the Bairams and the Christian feasts (those living in Salmanovo, for instance). During the last years a great number of Drandari have been attracted by the Church of the Pentecost. The general trend is to abandon the celebration of the traditional feasts, but they still keep the memory about them.

Ihtimya is celebrated on February 2nd. It is connected with several similar legends. According to them the Turkish started to kill all male children (Romani or non-Romani) during the Turkish rule. They put a bloody mark on the doors of the houses they had already passed. A Gypsy woman (Ephtimiya or Ihtimya) killed a rooster and spread its blood over the door. When the Turkish passed by they decided that they had already taken the boy from this house. Thus the boy was saved. As one can see the legend is an exact analogue of the Bulgarian parable about Rooster's Day. The only difference is that the major personage here is a Gypsy woman. This, however, is also not obligatory: some of the nowadays Drandari believe that the woman was Bulgarian. They do not deny that the celebration of Ihtimya by Roma is an echo and reflection of the Bulgarian counterpart.

Ihtimya is celebrated as the Boy's Day. The feast is completely deprived of any religious decoration, and if there is any, it is implicit. The core of the feast is the slaughtering of a rooster for the health of the boy in the house.

A separate rooster is slaughtered for each boy in the house. It is very important that the rooster is slaughter by a man who is not living in the house, a relative or a friend. A dot is made on the boy's forehead with the rooster's blood. It is believed that this is done for health. The Drandari from Lyaskovetz and Zlataritza the head of the rooster is hanged on the door, "to remind that the rooster has saved the Romani lineage." The internal organs are thrown into the river or dug them into the ground "for dogs and cats not to take them away." The Drandari from Salmanovo and Ivanski dug into the ground not only the internal organs, but the head as well.

The meat of the rooster is to be eaten only on February 2nd. Therefore, the households with many boys (i.e. the places where more than one rooster is slaughter) make big celebrations and with the meat they gift their neighbours and relatives.

The celebration of the first grandson on Ihtimya is very solemn. Then the whole rooster, still raw is divided to the people from the neighbourhood.

Although Bashnuv Day is the Boy's Day, the girls are also included, but in a more modest way. Tiganichki and mekitzi are prepared for them. They are also spread in the neighbourhood.

As pointed above, Ihtimya is celebrated only by Drandari (at least in Central Bulgaria). Some Romani groups, however, have preserved a similar custom: slaughtering a rooster as an offering for the boy in the house and putting a bloody dot on the child's forehead for health. This custom is connected with Bango Vassili. The Kaldarashi from Dryanovo are one of these groups (they use the name Bashnuv Day for the feast of Bango Vassili). Dassikane-Roma from Gabrovo are another group. They also connect the slaughtering of a rooster with the legend about the Turkish and the saving of the Romani boy. "There was a time when the Turkish used to exact a blood tax from each family and to mark the doors of the houses they had laready taken the boys from with a bloody sign. In a Gypsy household there was only one child, a boy. To save him, his parents slaughtered a rooster and spread blood over the door. The Turkish saw the sign and passed by. We celebrate St.Basil's Day with a rooster since those times. In addition, we put a blood dot on the children's foreheads." (Marushiakova, Popov 1993: 168).

The feast is also interesting from another point of view: this is one of the few Romani feasts which are not religious. The metaphysical aspect in the feast is obvious: everything done is aimed at obtaining health for the children but not under the cover of an ecclesiastical ritual, not even by addressing towards a saint. Bashnuv Day demonstrates once more what we have already pointed out in the chapter on Romani religiousness: religiousness for Roma is much more than just religion.

Furthermore, Ihtimya is interesting because it additionally demonstrates one aspect of the relationship between Romani and Bulgarian traditions: sometimes Roma preserve customs the neighbouring ethnoi have already lost.

Three universal symbols interweave in the celebration of Bashnuv Day: first, the sacrifice (and the salvation connected with it), second, the blood (and life it represents), and last but not least, the mother.

The Romani legend about Ihtimya as well as its Bulgarian counterpart about Rooster's Day, which is most probably the prototype, steps on the well known archetype of Isaac's sacrifice. This does not mean, however, that we exclude the possibility the legend to be based on a real historical event. The important thing in that case would be that the model of interpreting a historical event is placed within the frames of a biblical archetype. The saving of the firstborn son (or the only son) inevitably requires a sacrifice, because he is the continuation of the lineage. With realizing his mortality, man has always searched for a way to prolong himself. The most natural way to do this is through the children. Therefore, the care about children is the biggest, the most sacred care in each culture. That is why the mother is deified (in one or another way). That is why sterility or the lost of a child is one of the terrible things.

The sacrifice Abraham makes is an animal. God forbids the scarifying of a child. Moreover, to preserve the life of a child, the offering of an animal is needed.

The striving for preventing sterility and children death-rate is extremely strong among Roma (Marushiakova, Popov 1993: 178-179). This can be easily explained with the high children mortality rate among Roma in the past (around 60-80%). The explanation, however is not so important. More important is the fact that this striving is materialized in the feast of Ihtimya and in the reproducing of the biblical archetype of the sacrifice: a rooster in that case.

Blood is a symbol of many layers. It means life. The one who is full with blood, he is full with energy and life. The flowing of blood out means misfortune, because it leads to death. Therefore, making a dot with the rooster's or the lamb's blood on the boy's forehead means health. This is an element that can be found in only two Romani feasts: Bashnuv Day and St.George's Day.

The mother, as pointed above, has been always deified. She is the beginning of life, the source of life. In each culture, the most protected woman is the one giving a birth, because she "has one foot in the grave" (Marushiakova, Popov 1993: 179). It is not by accident that the mother is the major personage in the legend about Ihtimya. She has given life to the child, therefore she refuses to allow anybody else to take it away: "I have given him life, I have taken it!


Easter (Patragi) is celebrated by almost all Romani groups in Bulgaria, including Horohane-Roma. The only exception are those Muslim Roma who have strong preferred Turkish self-consciousness. Because of the desire completely to identify themselves with the surrounding Turkish population they have abandoned almost all Romani feasts. The Kaldarashi make the most luxurious celebration of Easter. Even for them however it is not the most celebrated feast. St.George's Day is the most celebrated one.

The celebration of Easter by Kaldarashi, Rudari and Dassikane-Roma is connected with their Christian religion. Patragi is really Christ's Resurrection for them. The religious recognition of the feast lacks among Muslim Roma. It is celebrated just as "the day of the red eggs." During our field research we did not come across specific Romani legends about Easter (like the legend about the restoration of the bridge by St.Basil, or the legend about the salvation of Roma by St.George)

Several elements can be distinguished in the celebration of Easter. Unlike St.Basil's Day, where the elements of the feast are more or less common for all Romani groups, they significantly differ from group to group here.

Preparation for the feast: painting of the eggs. The eggs are painted on Thursday or Saturday like in the Bulgarian tradition. The preferred colour is red. It is obligatory the number of the egg to end on one for the Burgudjii group: 21, 31, 41, and so on. They also preserve the custom that the family members use the first egg (which is obligatory red) to paint their faces. It is believed to bring health. This egg is left aside for St.George's Day, it is not to be eaten. There is a similar custom preserved by some Kaldarashi.

Taking of "brazda". This extremely interesting custom is connected with meeting Easter's sunrise. It is preserved in one way or another by all Kaldarashi groups from Central Bulgaria: from the village of Kardam, Popovo region, to the town of Dryanovo, Gabrovo region. The core of the custom is bringing a wheat sod from some of the fields in the nearby into the house.

The wheat sod is called "brazda." This is a square with length of the sides around 50 cm (it is not an obligatory length). It consists of wheat stalks, roots, and soil. It is taken from the nearest wheat field or from just a field or a meadow (if there is no wheat field in the nearby).

The sod is taken early in the morning on Easter's day, at sunrise. In the group of the Kaldarashi from Dryanovo the sod is taken by the youngest daughter-in-law, in the group of the Bakardjii from the village of Kardam, this is done by the man who is the head of the family.

The Bakardjii from Kardam put a red egg, money, a bottle of wine, and an iron spoon on the brazda. One of the ends of the spoon is on the sod, the other - on the doorstep of the house. At sunrise the oldest man in the family gives komka (Eucharist): each member of the family steps on the spoon ("to be healthy like the iron during this year"), drinks a gulp of wine, takes the Eucharist from the oldest man, makes a cross, and says: "Christ resurrected!"

The Grebenari from Dryanovo put just a red egg on the brazda, and a vessel with red wine by the side of the sod. They do not put an iron spoon ("iron is not good metal, it gets rusty"). They do not give komka, either ("the Eucharist is given in the church").

The ritual with the brazda is aimed to bring health and fertility. It symbolizes spring regeneration of nature by combining fresh green stalks of wheat and the red egg, and the red wine - the blood of the resurrecting Christ.

The mere feast. Easter is probably the only feast when going to church is obligatory (at least in the Kaldarashi group). This is the mere core of the feast. For the other Romani groups in Bulgaria the feast is celebrated in a family surrounding. Paying visits to relatives and friends and exchanging eggs is another important element of the feast.

Each guest presents the host with a red egg and receives in turn another red egg. The guest addresses the host with the words: "Bahtalos kyoges! Christos sam yat!" (Marry feast! Christ resurrected!). The host replies: "Adavara sam yat!" (He resurrected for the truth). Then they shake hands and exchange eggs.

There is obligatory a rich table for the feats with chicken meat (usually a turkey) and ritual bread "kulatzi."

As pointed above, Easter for the Kaldarashi is extremely religious feast. This statement is less applicable to the other Christian Romani groups in Bulgaria (Rudari and Dassikane-Roma). This can not be applied to Muslim Roma where the religious layer of Easter's celebration lacks. The feast however is connected with joy from the coming spring and with the hope for fruitfulness and fertility. It is one more occasion to ask these things from the supernatural.


St.George's Day is the biggest feast for Roma in Bulgaria. It is celebrated by all Romani groups (with the only exception of Horohane-Roma with strong preferred Turkish self-consciousness which have celebrated it until recently). St.George's Day is a major feast for all of them, including Muslim Roma. Only for Burgudjii and Drandarithe major feast is Bango Vassili. Even they however celebrate St.George's Day very luxury.

Usually the Kaldarashi and Rudari call the feast "st.George" or "St.George's Day", and the Yerlii call it "Herdelez," "Hadarlez," or "Erdelez." It is celebrated for three days. For Horohane-Roma from Vodolei these days are May 4th, 5th, and 6th; for the Musicians from Salmanovo the days are May 5th,6th, and 7th; for the Bakardjii from Kardam – May 6th, 7th, and 8th.

The celebration of St.George's Day is connected with the belief that St.George is Roma’s savior (as well as St.Basil) and with the legend that the dragon of an evil king started to eat Roma, but St.George killed him. (Nunev 2000: 111-112). Beside this, Erdelez is celebrated also as the beginning of the spring, of the real warm weather. Therefore, the whole ritual is full of spring symbolic.

The celebration of St.George's Day is different not only among various Romani groups, but also among representatives of one and the same group living on different places. We can see if we look at the Musicians from Ivanski and Salmanovo that they celebrate the mere feast in the night against May 6th in the near forest, while the Musicians from Zlataritza do it during the day of May 6th in a family surrounding. Nevertheless the differences several common elements can be pointed out:

Preparation for the feast: the most important element in the preparation for the feast is buying the lamb. There is a belief widely spread that the lamb aimed to be the offering has to spend the night in the house. Therefore, it is bought on May 4th or 5th the latest. Some groups, the Musicians from Zlataritza, for instance, start the celebrations with the lamb entering the house. Then the gates are decorated with blossoming twigs and branches, usually willow or beech-tree. A wreath and a candle (or 2 candles) are put on the lamb’s head. After this hey incense "for health." Other Romani groups also practice the decorating of the houses with blossoming twigs, but they practice the custom with the wreath, the candle and the incensing in the morning of May 6th.

The preparation in the Burgudjii group starts yet from Easter with the painting of the first egg and the preparation of the special St.George's Day’s candle. As already mentioned, the first red egg is preserved ubtil St.George's Day when it is placed in the mouth of the roasted lamb. At the same time a special candle with a red thread is made on the Passionate Sunday (before Resurrection). It is lighted for a while on Easter’s eve and then it is put aside. The next lighting is in the evening of May 5th for a while. It is let to burn completely on May 6th before the lamb is slaughtered.

Many Romani groups (the Musicians from Ivanski, Horohane-Roma from Vodolei, and so on) have adopted to custom to pick stalks of nettle for each member of the family and put them under the roof-tiles in the evening of May 5th. They look whose stalk has faded or not and guess for the year for that man would be: a jolly or a sad one.

The Musicians from Ivanski used to practice a custom in the evening of May 5th (which is to a great extent lost now) to take a bath in water with herbs: St.George's flower, nettles, and burr. It is not difficult to find in this custom the ritual purifying before the feast, the spring symbolic, and the hope of chasing away the diseases and achieving health through the year.

Going "for green": the Drandari and the Koshnichari from Shumen practice the custom to go "for green" on eve of St.George's Day. All Roma go to the forest, light fires and have fun the whole night. In the morning they go home bringing blossoming twigs ("green") to decorate the doors of the houses.

Ritual slaughtering of the lamb: Most of Roma do the slaughtering of the lamb-offering extremely solemnly. It is usually done in the morning of May 6th. The Musicians from Salmanovo and Ivanski and the Koshnichari from Marash are exceptions. They slaughter the lamb in the evening of Mat 5th.

The Kaldarashi used to slaughter a lamb for each boy in the house. Today this custom is almost abandoned because of economic difficulties, although it is still practices by some families. The tradition in the other Romani groups is to slaughter a lamb in a house. At some places only the people who have a name day (who are called George) slaughter a lamb. They give their neighbours from the meat.

The lamb is decorated before being slaughtered. They put a wreath of St.George's flower, wheat, wild geranium and spring flowers on its head (Kaldarashi) or blossoming twigs and willow (the Musicians from Zlataritza and Lyaskovetz). Somewhere additionally decorate the lamb with red paint and necklaces (Vodolei). The purpose of this decoration is to show the wealth of the coming spring and to pray for fertility and fruitfulness.

One or two candles are put on the head of the lamb. They are lighted before the lamb is slaughtered. The Burgudjii from Gorna Oryahovitza put the candle prepared exactly for this occasion on the Passionate Saturday. It is decorated with red thread, nettles and grass. While the candle is burning, the lamb is incensed and blessed. This custom is still well preserved among Kaldarashi. The other Romani groups have rather abandoned it although they still keep the memory about it.

A custom typical for the Burgudjii is giving salt to the lamb. They judge from the result what the year would be: if the lamb eats much salt the year would be good and vice versa.

After this they go to the slaughtering itself. In the Kaldarashi group (the Bakardjii from Kardam or the Grebenari from Dryanovo, for instance) the oldest man in the family – the head of the family does it. Even when he is too old and weak, he just slaughters the lamb and gives it to his sons to take out his skin and roast it. The slaughtering among the Musicians from Zlataritza is done by a strange, a man not living in the house.

They never let the blood of the lamb to flow into the ground. It is collected and together with the internal organs and the bones it is thrown (on May 7th) into the river. This is done "to be sure that the blood will not go to a dirty place and that man will be lucky all the year." Only the Drrandari do not preserve this element: they do not take special care of the blood of the lamb, but they remember that it used to be thrown into flowing water some years ago. The blood is buried into the ground as an offering in the village of Ivanski.

Horohane-Roma and Drandari make a dot on the children’s foreheads with the blood of the lamb. This is done "for health." We have not registered this custom among the other Romani groups from Central Bulgaria.

The lamb is not cut to pieces. It is roasted whole on cheverme (barbecue) or in a large baking dish. The inside is sewed and thus also roasted. The spit is washed by the head of the family with water from a special tin-plated copper with wheat stalks and wild geranium in it. This is made for health, luck, and fertility.

The table for the St.George's Day: Some Roma (given families from the Grebenari from Dryanovo) prepare a special table for St.George's Day: it is obligatory a round one, made in a way that "there is no nail in it." Because the nail is iron and the iron gets rusty: "We put the lamb, the offering, on this table. It is not good to have iron or anything else that gets rusty."

The richly decorated lamb is placed in the middle of the table. A red egg is placed in its mouth (the first egg from Easter), a slice of bread, paper money (the highest value available), garlic (to prevent from evil eye and to bring health). It is obligatory to put red wine on the table – "the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the most genuine drink, not like rakia which is processed in cauldrons."

The table is incenses before the lunch. Then the oldest people in the family – the head of the family and his wife (somewhere – his brother) take the ritual bread (the so-called kulak), slightly cut it crosswise and pour red wine in the four arm ends of the cross saying: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amin!" They break the kulak into two, kiss the two pieces and then break it into two more pieces and kiss them again. After this the head of the family takes a candle, says a prayer and extinguishes the candle in the bottle of wine. He puts it three times in the mouth of the bottle and on the fourth he extinguishes it. Everything is repeated three times. After this the table is considered inaugurated and the lunch can start.

This custom is well preserved by the Kaldarashi. The other Romani groups preserve just single elements from it.

Another ritual preserved by the Kaldarashi and the Burgudjii is to sell the head of the lamb. It is richly decorated as mentioned above. Everyone takes the head and sells it to his neighbour at his left side, clockwise, starting from host. The two men who are bargaining hold fresh garlic in their hands. If the purchaser tries to take it before they have made the deal, the seller hits him with the fresh garlic "to chase away the evil thoughts and the evil ghosts." We sell it this way until the head reaches the owner of the house again. Of course, all this is made without real giving of money.

Washing and making a cradle: Usually St.George's Day is connected wit much of joy and good mood, expressed in various ways. In almost all Romani groups the lads go and bath into the river to show that the warm weather has already come and the water is not cold any more. It is also accepted that the lads make cradles for the girls ask them about their future marriage while they cradle them.

"Singing by songs": The custom is shared by all Romani groups. The core of the custom is predicting (half-seriously, half-jokingly) the future marriage of the young girls. It is usually performed in the evening of May 5th or in the morning of May 6th.

In the evening of St.George's Day all unmarried girls gather in one house and each girl drops a ring or another sign in a bucket. Then they put geranium in the water and leave to bucket to "spend the night" under a rose bush. The gathering of the rings is performed very solemnly by the Musicians: with music. The girl who is the best singer is covered with a cloth not to be able to see anything. After this she starts to sing songs and reaches in the bucket to take out any of the rings. She sings different songs, both, sad and merry... If she takes out a ring during a merry song, the girl the ring belongs to will have a happy marriage and vice versa.

The Kaldarashi and the Burgudjii perform this custom in the evening of St.George's Day after the dinner.

Having in mind the symbolic treasure, St.George's Day rivals the other big Romani feast: Bango Vassili. A number of symbols already described in the previous chapters can be seen here: the water and its purifying power (the blood of the lamb is thrown in a flowing water to prevent it from going to a dirty place), the blood (a drop of the sacrificial blood is put on the child’s forehead to be healthy), and so on. The most important symbols, however are those of the offering and the renewal. They organize and give meaning to all the other activities and rituals connected with the feast.

The offering is a symbol very close in meaning to that of the sacrifice, but does not cover it. The sacrifice is what man gives to the supernatural to express his veneration and to ask something by praying for himself (for his child, for his family). The offering is what man gives to the supernatural just to express his veneration to the supernatural to ask something – not so personal, but rather connected with nature and the universum as a whole.

The lamb on St.George's Day is an offering for St.George and an offering for the spring, for the renewal. The sacrificing of the lamb marks an important natural boundary; the end of the cold and dead winter months, the beginning of the spring-summer life. Yet in the time of the "natural man", in the time of the so-called "primitive" life, winter and spring have been established as persistent archetypes of human culture connected with coldness, death, fear (the winter) and warmth, life, and happiness (the spring). But the biggest natural boundary is the transition between winter and spring, a transition between life and death.

This transition requires of course not only supernatural interference, but huge effort on behalf of the whole universum: the divine, the natural, and the man. The offering at St.George's Day is the man’s contribution in this effort. It is offered in the name of life.

In this direction Christo Vakarelski points out: "The customs and beliefs connected with the preparing of the offering - slaughtering, roasting, giving to other people have mainly magical and symbolic character…" (Vakarelski 1974: 603). The sacrificial lamb is turned from an animal into an offering via its festive decoration and incensing. From this moment on its nature is rather magical than earthly: the blood turns into sacred blood, the bones and the internal organs as well, the meat brings power and renewal. Via the rituals performed at St.George's Day, man becomes a part of the cosmic process of renewal, he becomes one of its driving forces.

Roma (especially the Katunari, Kaldarashi) are connected with the weather, with the winter colds and the spring hopes, more than any other ethnoi in Bulgaria. Therefore, it is not by accident that they turn St.George's Day into the biggest and the most celebrated feast surpassing even the ecclesiastical Easter. The celebration of St.George's Day by the Kaldarashi surpasses the celebration by the Yerlii, and all other ethnoi in Bulgaria (Bulgarians, Valachians, and even Karakachani) from a point of view of the number and the richness of rituals and activities. In the Kaldarashi worldview St.George's Day looses some of the agricultural and pastoral element, but it acquires new magical elements in stead, elements connected with the belief in the renewal and man’s place in it.


The treasure of Romani feasts does not consist only of Bango Vassili, Ihtimya, Easter and St.George’s Day. We have concentrated more thoroughly on them only because they are more celebrated are considered to be more important by Roma themselves. It is not by accident that during the field work the informers themselves pointed exactly these feasts being asked about the Romani feasts.

As pointed above, Roma celebrate almost all Christian feasts. Muslim Roma also celebrate them in addition to the Islam feasts. This can be most clearly seen at the Kaldarashi group which celebrates each feast of the Christian calendar. "It can be only a jug of water but it is placed there for health, to celebrate the feast. It is not necessary to be a personal feast, to celebrate it specially, but since it is a feast it has to be celebrated."

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