Lovers can officially ignore Valentine's Day in Bulgaria because the day is given over to the celebration of wine and St. Trifon The Pruner.
Honoring the patron saint of vine growers is the right way to mark February 14, many in the Balkan country say, although Valentine's Day popularity is quickly growing among the young.
The wine rituals have their roots in the devotion to the ancient Greek god of Dionysus and the Thracians who once inhabited the territory of modern Bulgaria and were known for their winemaking skills.
Wine makers across Bulgaria salute St. Trifon with the annual trimming of the grape vines, which symbolizes the end of winter. The tradition requires women to bake bread and roast hens in preparation for a post-pruning feast.
In every town, the man deemed to have grown the most grapes that year is crowned King, put on a horse-cart, driven from house to house and ordered to get drunk with his friends in order to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming year.
St. Trifon lived in the third century AD and is believed to have had the divine power to heal any sickness. He was tortured to death and beheaded for his Christian faith.
The Orthodox Church in largely Christian Bulgaria celebrates St. Trifon on February 1 according to the new religious calendar but most people prefer to do it on February 14 according to the old calendar, not least as an alternative to Valentine's Day.
"Valentine's Day is nonsense. We had never heard about it until some 15 years ago. I'll stick with St. Trifon," said Sofia resident Georgi Blagoev, 34.
Internet blogs and forums are full of heated debates about which holiday Bulgarians should celebrate but there are plenty who say they would celebrate both.
"Why not celebrate the day of love with a glass of wine. We will get drunk anyway," quipped 24-year-old Mira Nikolova.
A excerpt from piece from the Sophia Echo adds some details:
Just for the record, St. Trifon lived in the third century and was believed to have had the divine power to cure any sickness. He was tortured to death and decapitated for his Christian faith.
In Bulgaria St. Trifon’s day is marked in the beginning of spring when farmers start trimming the vines. In the Bulgarian folk tradition the saint is worshipped as the guardian of vineyards.
Early in the morning the mistress of the house kneads some bread and cooks a barnyard hen. The loaf of bread, the hen and a wooden vessel (buklitza) full of wine are put in a new woollen bag.
With such bags over their shoulders the men go to the vineyards. They make the sign of the cross; take the pruning-knives and start pruning three sticks from three main stems. Afterwards they make the sign of the cross again and pour the wine they have brought over the vines. This ritual is called “trimming”.
Following this ceremony, they single out “the king of vineyards”. The king is crowned with a wreath of vine sticks and decorated by another garland – across his shoulders. He is seated on a cart. The vine-growers draw the cart and, accompanied by the sounds of bagpipes and a drum, they make their way to the village or town. They stop at each house and the hostess brings out wine in a white caldron, offers it first to the king and then to the people of his suite.
The wine left in the caldron is thrown over the king, pronouncing at the same time a blessing: “May we have a good harvest! May it overflow thresholds!” The king answers to this blessing with: “Amen”. When arriving at his own house, the king changes his clothes and, still wearing the wreaths on his head and over his shoulders, sits at a long table to meet people from the whole village. That is why, as a rule, a well-to-do man is chosen to be the king of this festival.
Rituals like these are just proof of how important wine-making has been in these lands since times already forgotten. Wine production is also one of the important sectors of Bulgaria’s economy.
Wine-making has been a traditional Bulgarian strength, with large quantities exported in the communist period to the Soviet Union and, eventually, to west European markets, where a “cheap and cheerful” niche was found in the 1980s.