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Holidays dedicated to St. Virgin Mary

The Annunciation - 25th March

On this day the Angel sends Virgin Mary the holy announcement that she would bear the son, who would save the world. From there comes the name of the holiday - the Annunciation. This holiday has a special place in the calendar since everything connected with St. Virgin Mary's life is highly respected by the people of Asenovgrad. There is a big church in the town devoted to this moment of her life, i.e. "St. Virgin Mary - The Annunciation" Church. Worshippers from the whole district gather here, because there is no such church elsewhere in the town.

Women who want to have children sleep here during the night. They bring many gifts for the icon. In the morning there is a service, for which believers carry the so-called "petohlebie" - five little loafs of bread with a seal from the Communion Bread above them. They put them one over the other, and on the loaf at the top a burning taper is fixed. This "petohlebie", after being blessed by the priest, is given to everyone attending the service so that St. Virgin Mary could help the woman who is a gift-bearer. This is a gift through which the woman in need receives the blessing of God's Mother that will help her get a child.

The Annunciation holiday falls into the period of Long Lent, but on this day we are allowed to eat fish. A "fish-pie" is made - a carp filled with nuts, covered with onions, and baked in an oven. According to the Christian religion, the fish is a sign of Christ and in the popular beliefs it is a symbol of fertility.

The day of the Annunciation is considered also as the time, when the spring season has already begun.

St. Virgin Mary with the Golden Apple

This is a holiday in honor of St. Virgin Mary, always celebrated on the 5th Sunday of the Lord Lent. On Friday evening the last Virgin Mary's Akatist is read in the churches and on the next day comes this holiday.

It has to do with the faith in Virgin Mary as a patroness of maternity and the family, and in a way it is a continuation of the Annunciation. It is celebrated especially by women, who could not bear a child for a long time. They bring a loaf in the church, on which the priest reads a special prayer about St. Virgin Mary, and then the loaf is divided among all people attending the service. Outside the church, in the yard a stew of beans and pilav is cooked.

Women put flowers on the icon of St.Virgin Mary. This icon is specially decorated with a garland of apples, which the priest gives to those women who want to become pregnant. They have to eat the whole apple. This is connected with the belief that a woman once brought Virgin Mary an apple as a gift and deeply begged her to send her a child. Then Virgin Mary appeared to the woman, when she was sleeping and gave her an apple which was golden.

This religious holiday is very popular in Asenovgrad,. It is a typical local holiday dedicated to St. Virgin Mary and it can not be seen in other ethnographical regions. It is celebrated mostly in "St. Virgin Mary - The Assumption" Church in Gorno Voden.

Assumption of St. Virgin Mary (also known as "Goliama Bogoroditsa") - 15th August

This holiday is one of the most significant holidays for the town and region. St. Virgin Mary is considered to be not only a protectress of maternity, but also a patroness of the whole region. For the holiday in Asenovgrad, most of the people gather in "St. Virgin Mary - The Assumption" Church, also called the "deep church" because of the fact that it is slightly dug into the ground. After the divine service boiled muttons are given here to the people. Most of the worshippers, however, go to the Monastery of Bachkovo, whose cathedral is also named "St. Virgin Mary - The Assumption".

Since Virgin Mary is the protectress of children and the one who gives the woman her child, the holiday is preceded by fasting, known as Virgin Mary's Shrovetide and lasting during the previous 15days. Women, who have observed this fast, can receive communion. On the holiday itself, there is a strict prohibition not to do any hard work either in the fields or at home.

To strengthen the influence of St. Virgin Mary, women go to the Monastery of Bachkovo and spend there 2-3 days before the holiday. Worshippers from all over the country come here and those who have promised boiled muttons to the saint carry with them a lamb or sheep to be blessed by the priest as a gift. Those who can not bring a ritual animal but still want to make a gift can pay for one of the animals in the monastery. It will then be blessed by the priest for the gift-bearer's health.

Except for the ritual animals for the preparation of boiled mutton, worshippers can offer other gifts as well; and some money too. They are put in front of the icon of St. Virgin Mary, which is considered miraculous or wonder-working. People's belief in the power of saint that gives women their children and then watches over their life is most strongly revealed on this day.

Also, in the other parts of the country women whose name is Maria celebrate their name-day on this holiday. In Asenovgrad, however, most of the women with that name celebrate not on the day of "Goliama Bogoroditsa" but on the second day of Christmas. This is because of the local understanding of the holiday as the death of Virgin Mary, which gives no proper reason for a name-day celebration. For the local people, this religious holiday is simply an expression of respect, admiration and gratitude towards the saint for all the benevolence, which she gives them.

On the day of her assumption St. Virgin Mary is respected as one who gives life. According to the belief, she doesn't actually die; she only goes to another world, in the heavenly space. And heaven is thought to give life because the sun and the rain are in heaven. They all symbolize fertility and new beginning.
The holiday of the Assumption presents the millenary ideas of the local people, in which death and life are seen as an endless process.

The Birth of St. Most Holy Virgin Mary (also known as "Malka Bogoroditsa") - 8th September

This holiday is again dedicated to St. Virgin Mary. People pray for the protection of children and the family, for women to get pregnant. On this day grain wheat is boiled and it is brought first to the church for service and blessing by the priest, and then given to people for health.

This ritual is done in order to show respect to the saint and to ensure her blessing for the new crop. Together with the service in all churches in town, carrying the name of the Holy Virgin, divine service is carried out in "St. Virgin Mary's Birth" Chapel, also called "Faneroumeni". It is situated on one of the hills above the Metoh quarter. This chapel is part from the sacral system that encircles the reinforces this holy protection.

Since the holiday is dedicated to the birth of St. Virgin Mary, her parents - St. Ana and St. Ioakim - are also respected on this day.

Fair of St. Most Holy Virgin Mary, the second day of Christmas - 26th December

This holiday is a natural continuation of Christmas, but it is at the same time part of the cycle of holidays dedicated to St. Virgin Mary. This is because both the begetting and the birth of God's son has happened in an wonderful way. A service is made in church, which glorifies God's Holy Mother. It is the day on which women in Asenovgrad celebrate their name-day.

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