Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tsvetnitsa-Willow Sunday

Rites of Tsvetnitsa

Bulgaria celebrates the Orthodox faith’s Palm Sunday today, with willow branches and floral wreaths.

Only late in the day did we learn that this is Bulgaria’s biggest floral occasion, Tsvetnitsa-Vrabnitsa: Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church. An ebullient holiday of spring, it combines remembrance of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem with much older celebrations of Bulgarian maidens and the burgeoning countryside itself.

The festivities actually began on Saturday, with Lazarovden, or St. Lazar’s Day, “a festival devoted to young girls, pastures, fields and woods.” It all sounds like something out of Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough or a Joseph Campbell pipedream:

“The young girls called ‘lazarki’ form groups of 10 to 20 members and as they go from house to house, they sing special songs and perform traditional dances. Two of the maidens carry a basket, in which they put the eggs, collected from the housewives. Another couple sings and dances while all the others clap their hands and sing in accompaniment. The songs, containing love and bridal elements, are directed to all members of the family. The heads of the girls bear wreaths of spring flowers. The young ‘lazarki’ wear colorful sleeveless dresses and bright stockings as a symbol of the awakening nature. It is believed that a young girl is not ready for marriage until she performs dances and songs for ‘Lazarovden.’”

On the morning of Palm Sunday itself (celebrated April 24th this year among Bulgaria’s Orthodox Christians), “the ‘lazarki’ go to the river. After finding a place where the waters are calm, they put pieces of traditional breads called ‘kukli’ (dolls) on willow barks and let them go into the river simultaneously. The girl whose bark outsails those of the others is pronounced ‘kumitsata.’”

We assume that’s a good thing. Bulgarian readers, please advise.
“Once the ritual is performed, they go to the house of the ‘kumitsata,’ where they sit down to table, on which ritual pieces of bread, hominy and mashed nettle are served.”

Floral headpieces are an insignia of maidenhood, or at least feminine sexuality, in many cultures —from Olympia and Billie Holliday to ‘here comes the bride’; Tsvetnitsa headgear is especially splendid. But this festival’s Human Flower Project extends way beyond costumes. It’s also the name day for every Roza, Lilia and Violeta in the land. Name days are more important than birthdays in Bulgaria, and Palm Sunday—Tsvetnitsa—celebrates every person who’s named for a flower or tree.

Can all this be? We are very eager to learn if these are living customs or simply “local color” dribbled on a travel website—Bulgaria’s version of maypole dancing.

In any case, good wishes to all Tsvetelinas, Yavors, Kamelias, and our dear Roses of North America too.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who can enlighten the lads and ladies who produced this article [find link in article title] please help fill in their reality gaps!



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