20 December – Ignazhden (Ignatius’s Day)

This day is the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. According to thetradition, the Virgin’s labor pains began on this day and continued until Christmas. Many ethnographers think that in ancient pagan times Christmas Eve and Ignazhden coincided, both celebrating God Kolada. The separation of the two holidays came after the Slavs were converted to Christianity.

This festival venerates the bishop of Antioch, Saint Ignatius Theophorus, sentenced to death because of his Christian faith and thrown to the lions. It was from the day of St. Ignatius to Christmas Eve that Virgin Mary’s labors continued. Christmas and New Year festivities begin from Ignazhden. The popular belief holds this day as the beginning of the New Year, which is why in some places in Bulgaria its name is Nov den (translated as ‘New Day’). Since it is the start of a new year, it is very important what man or woman first steps in the house. Upon this man’s personality depends the whole next year.

Saint Ignatius lived in the first-second centuries A.D., was thrown to the lions in Rome, where he died as a martyr. He is believed to have said: “I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread.” The feast’s traditional connection with the beginnings of the Virgin’s labor as well as its association with new life and new beginnings clearly mark it as a Christian holiday substituted for a much older winter solstice celebration. Until the end of the 19th century, mainly in the villages, people used home-made candles for the church as charms against ill-wishers.

The most popular thing for that holiday is the ritual “polazwane” (crawling). It depends on whoever enters in the house on Ignajden what the next year would be like. If the man who enters first is a good man there will be luck and success in everything in the house during the whole next year. If that someone is not a lucky man there will not be welfare for the home and especially for the economy during the year. If the man is good and he has had happiness in the previous year, the hosts give the man their blessing and invite him or her to be their spolaznik (the man who enters the house first) next year as well. In case the spolaznik is bad and brings unhappiness and misfortune to the house during the whole year they send him away.