Bread in Bulgaria
Bread has a special place in the Bulgarian culture and history. In the past, all Bulgarian women used to learn how to prepare bread shortly after they had learnt to walk and talk. Almost any Bulgarian woman (even nowadays) is able to prepare a loaf of bread or the traditional Bulgarian “pita” (flat cake) – a skill she has learnt from her mother or her grandmother.
Besides the fact that bread used to be one of the main foods Bulgarians ate for centuries, its meaning goes far beyond its nutritional value. It is present (in different forms) in almost any tradition, custom or holiday in the Bulgarian calendar. From birth till death, bread in Bulgaria plays a very important symbolic role in the life of all Bulgarians. There is even a saying that reveals the attitude Bulgarians have towards bread and its importance, “Nobody’s bigger than bread.”
There are traces of bread-related rituals and traditions dating back to Thracian times when bread was used as a blood-free oblation to gods. There are numerous artifacts and pieces of evidence that bread used to play an important role in the lives of Bulgarian ancestors. We can even describe this special attitude towards bread as a cult…
Order, as opposed to chaos, is something that is sought for in almost any Bulgarian tradition and ritual. Bread in Bulgaria, in this reference, has a very symbolic meaning – it is the result of the cultivation of wheat (one of the best achievements of humanity, helping for the feeding of hundreds of millions of people from all over the world). Moreover, its preparation requires a lot of skills, work, and time as the process of bread preparation includes different steps like flour milling, sieving, kneading, rising, baking, ornamenting, etc. All these steps used to be performed within the family!
Another symbolic meaning of bread in Bulgaria is its dependence on fire (the baking process). Bread was baked in the family hearth – one of the most sacred places in the entire home. It was believed that bread took the strength of the fire and it was transferred to the one eating it. Besides, fire is believed to have cleansing properties for the soul and bread (as coming through fire) inherits them as well.
A very interesting analogy that has to do with bread is its connection to the beginning and end of life. Not surprisingly, any time a new baby was born to a Bulgarian family (or a person died), a ritual was performed including bread in it. In the old Thracian language, the word for “knead” means also “to give birth!”
- You shouldn’t throw bread away. This is considered a sin and a guaranteed method for bringing bad luck and poverty to the family.
- You shouldn’t throw bread on the ground. Bread in Bulgaria is considered sacred and there are even some Bulgarians who kiss any piece of bread that has fallen on the ground before they cast it away.
- You shouldn’t cut bread from both ends. It is considered bad luck.
- You shouldn’t leave the bread upside down. This is considered very bad luck and could even mean death in some parts of Bulgaria.
- You shouldn’t eat bread in your bed. Showing such disrespect is believed to bring you a night full of nightmares.
Bread and Salt Tradition
The “bread and salt” tradition is probably one of the most famous Bulgarian traditions among foreigners. This is a ritual that is performed when a new person is welcomed – a woman bakes a loaf of bread and offers a piece of it to the newcomer together with a pinch of salt (and, sometimes, honey). This ritual usually takes place at the threshold – another symbolically-saturated element. The meaning of this ritual is the acceptance of the outside person as a part of the family – one of the greatest signs of hospitality a foreigner can witness in Bulgaria!