1. You learned how to make traditional Christmas Eve bob chorba and sarmi dinner as a child.
Though many families weren’t religious, we followed the old tradition of a vegetarian dinner on Budni vecher. Grandma would pass the recipe for lozovi sarmi stuffed with rice and herbs, bean soup and beet salad with walnuts, and you would be the critic of honor, tasting all dishes in the busy kitchen before it was deemed worthy for serving at the dinner table.
2. You had to pick one gift and only one gift only from Santa Claus.
It wasn’t hard to understand even as a child that Bulgaria was going through some serious financial hardship in the 90s. This is why when you made your “order” to Dyado Mraz, you had to pick carefully because only one wish could be granted.
3. You sent out letters to the North Pole, written in cursive.
And once you put them neatly in a sealed envelope, you left them hanging on trees or on your balcony. You never really doubted that Saint Nick understood the cyrillic alphabet, so you went on and on with the list of all the toys that should make an appearance under the Christmas tree.
4. You went out with the koledari.
You joined the groups of kids to chase away the talasumi with their festive songs. The best part is that you never really needed the vocal talent to join a group. All it took was a fuzzy kalpak, a shuba, and a great level of peppiness and tolerance for the cold.
5. The New Year’s countdown on BNT was epic.
Live performances by Margarita Hranova, Duet Riton, Slavi and many others just got the ball rolling around 8pm. Then, a group of dancers with brilliant nosiyas would perform horo, accompanied by a band of bagpipers at Batenberg Square. To top it off, journalists would excitedly count down the last minutes to the hour, flashing live videos of kids sledding, lit Christmas trees at city squares all over the country and for the big finale — a lavish showcase of loud, sparkling fireworks.
6. You received symbolic clementines and bananas for Christmas.
After 1991, fully indulging in our new independence from the Soviet Union, we splurged on tropical fruit and excitedly bit into juicy oranges and lived it up with kiwi.
7. You were terribly disappointed if there was no snyag by December 24th
Unless there were fluffy chunks of fresh powder and the smell of smoke coming out of chimneys in the neighborhood, it wasn’t a real Christmas, and it that was the case, you asked mom and dad to postpone everything until the snow had arrived.
8. You got a glass of champagne on December 31st even if you were 8.
We believe that everyone deserves to make a wish and cling a glass in the New Year’s toast, regardless of age. Besides, bubbly equals health. Cheers!
9. Grandma was the ultimate boss in the kitchen and your mom complained about it.
There’s a reason Bulgarian women universally hate their svekurva. She will correct the way you wrap the stuffed grape leaves, she’ll tell you that your banitsa will never be as puffy as hers, and that no matter how hard you try, she’ll always be the boss of the household and your husband’s favorite girl.
10. The whole family gathered around the trapeza.
We LOVE holidays. Any day that calls for ubiquitous amounts of food and drink are welcome. On Easter we would eat kozunak, on Nikulden we’d roast sharan and Christmas day would call for broiled lamb. We always enjoyed catching up, arguing, laughing, gossiping, all while sipping on wine, rakiya and nibbling on meze.
11. Baba and dyado reminisced about Soviet Union times.
You know what’s coming any time the whole family sits around a table: politics. You’ll hear grandpa’s story about the prohibition of religion during Soviet times for the hundredth time, and grandma would add she waited in a line for 3 days to get a pair of nice, leather boots because goods were extremely scarce.
12. You were always reminded of how lucky you are to have a home.
My dad who volunteered at a homeless shelter for children would take me there around the holidays to donate toys and teach the orphans, reminding me of how lucky I was to have my own cozy bed and two parents, making me feel bad about refusing to eat my lentil soup at lunch.
13. You binge-watched Milion i edno Jelaniya with Kaka Lara.
Oh, the ultimate cartoon marathon! You felt incredibly important when you called Kaka Lara live on air and she played the cartoon you requested, because in your mind, she held the key to a magical, bottomless box of all children’s movies ever made. I especially enjoyed Banani s pijami and Nu pogodi.
14. Your future year was determined by a walnut.
Naturally, after the New Year’s toast, it was time to consult destiny in the form of a nut, to see what the new year had in store for you. If your walnut was nice and fresh, you’d have a successful year. If it was black and rotten, you better hang tight because trouble was ahead and not even Alena could help you.
15. The New Year’s fireworks were the coolest, most badass thing you ever saw.
The first thing you did after gulping your champagne at 12am was to run outside and light all the fireworks your dad and you had set up the day before. Now, I’m not saying that we’re a nation of pyromaniacs, but we love everything that sizzles, jumps, and burns. Even the smallest of towns would spend thousands of leva on this grand entertainment and even though you didn’t have Sofia’s budget, you still pulled off a decent formation in the back yard.
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