1. The freedom of an EU passport
After being accepted into the EU in 2007, we’re finally able to use those little plastic ID’s, also known as lichna karta, to go wherever we please. Spain, Sweden, Malta, you name it — we can hop on a plane and go, without having to deal with a painstaking visa application process. I see you, Barcelona!
2. The Christmas trapeza
Our culture is truly felt through the stomach, so we have so much to be thankful when Christmas rolls around. Chushki byurek, baklava, sarmi, broiled lamb, roasted fish, banitsa, tikvenik, roll us over and put a fork in us, we’re done. And take this is as a special shout out to mama and baba who prepared your entire meal while dad and grandpa were watching Lukoil Akademik kick Loko Plovdiv’s butt 3:0.
3. The Bogoyavlenie games
You’d be crazy not to enjoy a splash in the town’s invigorating, ice-cold river in the dead of winter, diving while shoving the neighborhood boys out of the way, fighting for a wooden cross, blessed by the local church no one really goes to. Well, the cross is said to bring some good luck and this whole ordeal is the ultimate display of masculinity.
4. Good harvests
My grandma is always beyond ecstatic and bursting with pride if the potatoes and onions on her dinner table came from the little patch of land she walks 5 kilometers to tend every day at Zelin. She also makes her own rakiya and lyutenitsa and is planning to take a stab at wine next year. We are agricultural people at our core and a good season of harvest always brings us great joy.
5. Holiday babies
Bulgarians have this weird obsession with babies. Any time a new creature pops out of a woman, there are at least four neighbor aunties who have already knitted out three different sweaters for each gender, presenting offerings of drunkalki, biberoni and stuffed animals. There is something so damn cute about these little people and we’ll give you PLENTY of advice on what they should eat, wear, study and do when they grow up.
If you look at the changes to Bulgarian society over the past 20 years, you’ll see that a lot of young people are leaving to study and live abroad — simply because we’ll have opportunities for promotions and bigger salaries (also, less bureaucracy). Bulgarian moms, being their typical loving, mettling selves, LOVE to know what we’re up to 24/7. Now they can just stick a laptop at the dinner table and Skype with us while we all eat, even if we’re still stuck at an airport in France on our way home for New Year’s.
7. Family time
Bulgarians are always able to recognize that the holidays are truly the perfect time to bring everyone together and catch up. I still remember going over from Botevgrad to Kyustendil with my parents, where a dozen aunts, uncles and cousins from Dupnitsa met us for a solid, three-day feast with copious amounts of wine, pogacha, skara and mezeta.
8. Having a job
Bulgaria is no exception in this worldwide unemployment trend. It’s very hard to find a job in your field here, especially if you just got out of college, so we’re always happy to have a steady source of income regardless of whether we’re chasing our dreams to be engineers or working at the Mtel office around the corner.
9. Being able to live in Studentski Grad for dirt cheap
Though college takes the standard four years to complete, we’re in no rush whatsoever. As long as we maintain our student status, we can rent a room for a few hundred dollars a year in Sofia’s Studentski Grad, which occupies a central position in the city, close to the vibrant club and bar scene and all the trendy happenings we don’t want to miss.
10. Studying abroad, especially if it’s free
Not that we don’t love studying in our own bustling Sofia or sunny Varna, but Bulgarians are always hungry for foreign cultural exploration. Being in the European Union allows us to study in all of Europe for free, plus Denmark, Holland, Scotland and a few others. Try to beat that, USA!
We could care less what the Turks or the Greeks say about this juicy, heaven-sent dessert, oozing with syrup, with a crunchy, yet soft body that melts into your mouth. They may claim ownership over the recipe but we’ve got our own version and it is damn good. (We add walnuts when we’re feeling feisty.)
12. The three-day wedding
There is the typical courthouse-followed-by-dinner wedding, and then there’s the three-day monster wedding where 100+ relatives gather for an elaborate party. First, the crew, followed by a live band with trumpets, clarinets and gaydato, picks up the groom, eats meze at his house and dances horo. Next up is the the bride — where orveuvres and rakiya galore and more horo is performed. The pattern repeats until everyone of note is picked up, from the parents to the great aunt Pena, who’s in town just for the big event. Due to the copious amounts of alcohol, Boryano, Boryanke and skara, guests hardly remember the actual ceremony but that’s ok, because there is a videographer capturing the entire parade 24/7, of course.
The Irish have pubs. Americans have dive bars. We have our beloved obscure, warm, cave-like mehana, where we can gladly disappear for 8 hours at a time with friends, family or colleagues to feast on cheverme, shopska salata and wine.
Come December and Bulgaria turns into a winter wonderland. Pamporovo is the place to be all winter, regardless of whether you’re hitting the pristine slopes or if you, like me, prefer to cuddle up by the hija’s fireplace with a glass of scotch in a hand-knit sweater baba gave you for Christmas.