Orthodox Easter in the foothills of Old Mountain in Bulgaria
Quite unplanned we stopped in Kalofer, the birth place of one of Bulgaria’s national heroes – Hristo Botev. A poet, but more so a revolutionary, he features brightly in our history. And since this is the end of this part of the story and I feel a little bit bad about it, I will leave those of you who handle Bulgarian with a wonderful poem by Nikola Vapzarov about Botev.
Without Botev, the town of Kalofer has little exceptional to offer, although it is a starting point for treks to the highest peak of Old Mountain, named Botev (reasons for this choice should be clear by now). The weather has been toying with us since we left Sofia, so we did not manage to venture into the deep nature of the area, but we did spend a lot of time in the center of town.
Unlike my amazing Easter decorating bonanza awhile back, this year I neither baked, stitched, painted or made anything really.
“Its Easter?!” I tried to hide my ignorance unsuccessfully when a friend of mine mentioned we might have trouble finding accommodation over this particular weekend. Even the week delay, gifted to me by the Orthodox branch of Christianity, could not help me. Frankly, I was not that torn up, because as all the other religious holidays for me, this one has always been more about a reason to have fun, to create and to enjoy the company of people who are dear to me. And separated from a firm belief, these things can be achieved any other day of the year.
When I read about how the mayor of Kalofer organized 100 bagpipers to play for Easter, I knew we had to go there, and that is how we ended up there.
Due to my tendency to read diagonally we almost missed the event, but the folk music that was carried all around town from the central plaza lured us in. People were walking the otherwise suitably for a small town empty area. Traditional costumes brightened up the atmosphere all around. As we were ordering a small lunch from the nearby cafe, I followed that nudging voice in my head and asked the waitress when will the bagpipes play? “It is supposed to be at 2pm” “2pm? Today?” I asked while trying to press buttons on my camera to find out what time it was. “Yes, today”.
It was 1:57pm. In the nick of time, with a salad waiting for us on the table we dashed to the square and made it just before the first breaths exhaled in those skins.
One hundred dizzying bagpipes filled the air with tradition. It took me 30 years to appreciate folk music, but it was worth the wait. The hairs on my arms stood up as though they knew something that I did not, a deep meaning that I can not understand or explain.
After the bagpipers have warmed us up, it was time for the horo to start. A special orchestra from Ruse was brought in to put a sparkle under those village feet. Mr.Blab became an instant groupie of the accordion player, whose exuberance and heartfelt performance could have easily been plucked out of the drizzly days of Woodstock. The girls joined in and after a few circles around, almost got the rhythm. I jumped in too a bit later. Eeeeeha!
The orchestra played even while we made our way back to the cozy house we found up the street.
Ina, the woman whose warmth won me over in our search for accommodation, welcomed us back to the blossom trees backyard with a nest of eggs, one for each of us. I don’t care about stars or concierges, this kind of kindness and human connection can hardly be found in a hotel.
I had promised the kids that we will do our own kind of express Easter decorating, so I got busy boiling eggs. Then we worked hard, way over ten minutes, to create this year’s egg masterpieces.
And here is our “nest”
Then we waited…
Other than coloring eggs, I have incredibly vivid memories of the midnight Easter services from my childhood. We would go into the night, way past most kids bedtime. Around the church would be full of people holding candles. I just loved the candles. Choosing from whom to get my fire, keeping it going. Waiting for the service to finish and to start the egg fights. Egg fights is where all those beautiful eggs would end up being destroyed. If you had visions of yolk filled bombs flying around, let me stop you in time. You play it like this: one person holds their egg pointy side up, while the other one knocks it with theirs pointy side down. Then they change and do the same with the bottoms. The egg that doesn’t crack, wins. The egg that survives at the end is called borak , but I remember calling it бияч (biach). And let me tell you, to have the winner in your hand is one proud moment for any self-respecting kid.
So, after the service, past midnight, Sofia would fill with people carrying lit candles back home. Being part of the huge crowds, all tending to that precious flame, was so much fun. And if you lose it, no sweat, just ask someone around you to share theirs and keep on going, all the way home.
I have told that story a few times to my kids before, but it was the best Easter service by far, watching them go through it.
Easter does not end there. All those piles of beautifully painted eggs, have to be used. So we continued fighting all the way to Sliven with friends.
Next to other flames…
…and to end the tradition in the small village of Chintulovo.