Monthly Archives: May 2014

Alphabet Day: In Praise of Bulgaria’s Letters

A billboard in honor of Alphabet Day.

A billboard in honor of Alphabet Day.

On May 24th, Bulgaria celebrates one of its most impressive and enduring contributions to the world: the Cyrillic alphabet. The enthusiasm is contagious: after only a few weeks here, I was referring to it as the Bulgarian alphabet with the latent pride of the locals. For a plucky country of 9 million worldwide, it’s an impressive accomplishment to have created the script used by 250+ million people. Some big-shot countries in this neighborhood make a big deal  out of adopting alphabets that they didn’t even invent–looking at you, Turkey!

Cyrillic was created by the two handsome guys pictured on the billboard above: Saints Cyril and Methodius. In the 9th century, the two evangelists spread Christianity throughout the Balkans and the Middle East before Cyril created the Glagolithic script. A student of Methodius’s adapted Cyrillic from Glagolithic and Greek, and it caught on because Glagolithic is a beast of an alphabet. Seriously, scholars don’t even know how many characters there are, but they know there are at least 41, and most of them look like secret Hobo glyphs or crop circle patterns.

They managed to narrow the new alphabet down from this less manageable form.

They managed to narrow the new alphabet down from this less manageable form.

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May Day & Georgievden: two very Bulgarian holidays

Peace ○ Labor ○ May

Peace ○ Labor ○ May

Bulgarians are a proud and holiday-loving people. This week, we got a 6-day weekend, bookended by two holidays that are quintessentially European. In southern Europe, a holiday on Thursday and one the next Tuesday mean that we get nearly a week off. Let some industrious suckers in Germany work themselves into an early grave, I’ll see you Wednesday!

May 1st is May Day, the day that most countries celebrate the workers of the world. America being what it is, our trusted institutions make the first of May creepy things like “Loyalty Day” or “Law Day” (Whoo, kids, law!). We shuffled the workers’s holiday to September, called it “Labor Day,” and made it another excuse to buy things. Not to mention a cudgel to prevent good people from wearing white well into autumn–hey, some slacks look good year-round! Even the name, Labor Day, sounds like some Protestant-work-ethic garbage to get us to celebrate working.

When Americans laugh at Europe’s frequent strikes, I wonder if they ever make the connection that that’s how you get things like two years paid parental leave. God bless this country, I saw a near-mutiny erupt at my work today over the attempted imposition of American-style office culture and working hours. Management relented, because my Bulgarian co-workers weren’t going to stand for it. In America, such impudence would’ve been met with the brutality of armed Pinkerton agents.
A few more years of Bulgarian lessons, and I'll be able to read texts from my mobile carrier.

A few more years of Bulgarian lessons, and I’ll be able to read texts from my mobile carrier.

 

Though they’re trying to yank Bulgaria out of the second world, socialist holidays like May Day stick around. That’s a benefit of moving here: getting to experience strange new holidays that celebrate utopian, internationalist social engineering, like the First of May or International Women’s Day. I had never heard of International Women’s Day, but they take it refreshingly seriously. Having been in Bulgaria only a couple of weeks, my first text was from my mobile provider wishing me “Chestit Praznik, Dami!” (Happy Holiday, Ladies!). It probably sounds less louche in Bulgarian.

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