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.

After having our labor honored with a couple of days off, May 6th is Georgievden (Гергьовден), the feast day of St. George (of dragon-slaying fame). Like nearly every Bulgarian holiday, Georgievden has cool pagan roots. Evidently, it is the best day for spells to be broken, so plan accordingly. From my erstwhile Catholic days, I remember Saints’ Days dotting the calendar and passing by unremarked upon. In Bulgaria, though, a Saint’s Day is also the name day for that Saint’s contemporary namesakes. A name day isn’t just another vaguely remembered, interchangeable religious holiday like the Feast of the Assumption (that’s right, Feast of the Assumption, I’M CALLING YOU OUT!). Your name day is celebrated like a second birthday.

Georgievden is one of the biggest name days in Bulgaria along with Ivanovden.
On George’s Day, everyone named George/Georgi or one of its countless variants (Gennady, Gergana, Ginka, Gocho, etc.) gets to party. As one of Huelo’s old pensioner friends on Facebook said with customary candor: “on your name day, it’s all about wine and fun and SEX!” Though Georgi is usually tied with Ivan for most popular Bulgarian name, Saint George is Bulgaria’s patron saint, so it’s got national importance.

Incidentally, good on Saint George for parlaying an apocryphal story about killing a dragon into Christian mythological superstardom. I don’t know if it’s just that he got in on the ground floor before the stock skyrocketed, but not many people get to be patron saints of multiple countries. And the dragon business is a little shady, too. Europeans love lions even more than they love dragons, and look at how clueless they’ve been about what lions actually look like. My guess is that some Romans in North Africa watched a guy stab a big hairless dog, and 17 centuries later he’s on everyone’s coins and he gets a country named after him.
Pictured: European lions. (l to r) Macedonia's coat of arms (1340), Finland's coat of arms, the taxidermied lion of Gripsholm Castle, Sweden. Not pictured: anything resembling a lion.

Pictured: European lions. (l to r) Macedonia’s coat of arms (1340), Finland’s coat of arms, the Gripsholm lion, Sweden (~1700s).
Not pictured: anything resembling a lion.

I was pleased to discover that there is a name day for Saint Lavrentii, so I have August 10th to look forward to. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to all the name days in between now and then. Not just because I hate working, but because I need to practice my Bulgarian names just like I need to study Bulgarian. I got some mild shade thrown at me for forgetting someone’s name, but I don’t think she appreciated how new so many southeastern European names are to non-natives. Remembering new names is hard enough, imagine meeting 5 people and 4 of them have names you’ve literally never heard before. “Oh hello, Momchil, Varban, Nadia, Atanas and Todor. Nice to meet you all, I’ll do my best to remember the totally new set of phonemes by which you call yourselves.
Who’da thought traveling would involve having to learn so many new things?

4 responses to “May Day & Georgievden: two very Bulgarian holidays

  1. Don’t worry, if you don’t have a name day, there is always Dec 5th when all who don’t have one plus Sava, Savina, and myself celebrate! I guess Huelo can join too. We are very communist about name days – all people should get one! Also prepare yourself, because on name days you don’t invite people, they just come to your place, so you have to be ready! At least that’s the tradition. 🙂

  2. That lion comment is WAY too hilarious. You’re totally right. Oh geez… I’m having a similar problem with names here… All may kids are Hee Gay or Hyan Su or Yoon Joo and I’m totally struggling. It’s AWFUL. They get pissed too when I can’t pronounce it correctly and I SWEAR I’m saying exactly what they are saying. So frustrating. 😦

    • Bulgaria is also unique in that the naming conventions make it VERY easy to find people with essentially identical first and last names: e.g. Atanas Atanasov, Georgi Giorgiev, etc. At least that makes it a little easier.

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