Mesni Zagovezni is a moveable feast in the Bulgarian Orthodox calendar. This feast’s date is not fixed in the civil calendar and varies depending on the date of Easter. Mesni Zagovezni is always celebrated on a Sunday eight weeks before Easter.
The traditional family dinner on this day contains only meat, hence the name of the holiday. After this celebration it is forbidden to eat meat until the end of the Easter fast period.
The Saturday before Mesni Zagovezni is Meatfare Saturday. On this day the women in Bulgaria give out at the cemetery bread, cooked eggs and cheese in honour of the dead.
Sirni Zagovezni is celebrated seven weeks before Easter. The evening of this feast is spent with members of close families. Until dinner time the custom for “forgiveness” has to be completed – the younger kiss hands of an older, in such way seek and receive forgiveness for their mistakes and insults. Traditionally, the ceremonial meals contain pie with cheese (banica), boiled eggs, white halva with walnuts and fish.
During the dinner takes part another ritual called “hamkane”. A piece of white halva is tied on the end of a thread, which is hanging on the ceiling or on a long pole. While the thread is swinging in a circle around the table, everyone, mostly the children are trying to catch the piece with mouth.
The most typical custom of Sirni Zagovezni is the kindling of bonfires. The circle dances (hora) played on this day are the last of the winter holiday cycle. During the Easter fast, dancing is not conducted except the “Buenets” horo dance (intense, without holding arms/hands that is played by young girls in eastern Bulgaria.)
From Sirni Zagovezni to Easter weddings haven’t been made.
Connected with the calendar transition between winter and spring, the customs of Sirni Zagovezni have cathartic and protective nature. Traditional dishes for Sirni Zagovezni:
Banica with cheese (pie with cheese), boiled eggs, halva with walnuts, rice and milk;
Grilled cheese scattered with Paprika, Fish;
Sirnica, oratnitsi, oruglitsi – these are the names of a ritual part of Sirni Zagovezni. It involved boys at the age of 8 to 14 years. Before dinner, the lads lit in high places near the village prepare bonfires of straw, sticks, leaves etc. The younger boys make their fires in the streets. The fire flame hast to be as high as possible. It is believed that as further as it lights, there in summer shall be no hail falling. The lads and in some areas of the country men, women and children, jump over that fire for health and prevention of fleas. Young boys prepare rods, split them on one of the ends and attach straw there. Then they light the straw and spin the rod (oratnika) with uttering out good wishes and blessings.