For many Bulgarians, the preparations for Christmas start with Advent fast which lasts 40 days and starts on November 15th. Orthodox Christians often don't eat meat and dairy during the Fast, and depending on the day, also olive oil, wine and fish.
Christmas Eve is very important in the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians are going to a Midnight Mass Church Service.
The dinner on this day is also special. The meal should traditionally have an odd number of dishes in it (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table.
There's a special decorated loaf of bread called “pita” which has a coin baked in it. If you find the good, you're meant to have good luck for the next year! The bread is normally cut by the oldest person in the family and they hand it around the table.
It's traditional that the table is left with all the food on it until the morning of Christmas Day. It is believed that the ancestors might like something to eat during the night.
Carol Singers (“Koledari”)
The “Koledari” are normally young men who go carol singing dressed in traditional clothing. The singing can only start after midnight on Christmas Eve. When they reach a house, they sing “the house song” praising and wishing the house well. Having the “Koledari” visit your home is meant to be good luck. After the singing, the head of the house will give the carol singers food to thank them for singing.
Decorated Christmas trees are found in every house, on the city squares and in public buildings. The evergreen trees are a sign of everlasting life with God. The decorations include Christmas lights, garlands and balls.
Once the fasting has ended, everyone enjoys an enormous dinner on Christmas Day, with a main dish of some type of meat which is often pork. The dinner is supposed to be rich marking the end of the Fast.
Among the traditional dishes are kebab, steaks, kavarma, Bulgarian sausages, sarmi, pumpkin pie. Although baklava is part of Turkish cuisine, it is a common dessert on the Bulgarian Christmas table.
The families exchange Christmas gifts and the little children are told that Santa Claus (“Dyado Koleda”) would bring their desired present if they have been good throughout the year.