Sirnitsa – a day of forgiveness and rejoice
Velikdenski Zagovezni, Proshka, Sirnitsa – all those are names of one and the same holidays, among the greatest in Christianity. Seven weeks before Easter, the Great Lent begins; weddings and parties stop; the world and people change. The Sun turns towards summer but the latter is still remote; people are expecting it with faith, yet they’re bracing for the upcoming season of hard work, too.
The people says that on Sirnitsa the sky and the earth are forgiving each other, therefore humans should do it, too. Early in the morning, we should ask forgiveness from our closest relatives – our parents and our sponsors. Our ancestors knew how to do it sincerely and from the depth of their hearts; they turned it into a festive rite and on this day they were genuinely forgetting bad blood, offences, pride. Sirnitsa is a day, on which everybody has obtained absolution. In seven weeks, the greatest miracle of the Christian universe shall take place – the Resurrection of Christ. Only a soul that’s absolved, pure, and unburdened with bad feelings can step into the impending difficult time – requiring giving a new sense to the greatness of the sacrifice, love, death, and resurrection; to trust that love is our dearest possession, death is not frightful, resurrection is possible. It’s so simple: “Forgive me, mother, father, darling, my son…”, “Be forgiven. By me and by God.” Maybe when we humans absolve each other, God would absolve us, too.
The magic of Sirnitsa is connected mostly to fire – fire for fruitfulness, protection, love, farewell. It’s also a symbol of the new Sun, of spring and revival, but also of the renewed god who will show to the earth a different birth, in the spheres of the spiritual and the invisible. The higher the fires on earth, the clearer a sign would they send to the heavens. As far as their light reaches, fruitfulness will be enjoyed and no hail would fall. One jumps over lit straw for health. Leaping across fire cleanses not only from parasites and daemons but from sins as well. Other things that are put on fire are oruglitsi (a hamper smeared with tar), oratnitsi (timber split and stuffed with straw), and olelii (a burning rotating tar-filled cask). Instead of love confessions, lit arrows made from wild cornel-tree are flying into the courtyards of the beloved maids. How could anybody keep apathetic to such incensed avowals! Young ladies were collecting them and exhibiting them with pride. Beekeepers were firing shots to induce beehives swarming. Men were also firing shots after dinner, to announce the beginning of the Great Lent. With it, it was the halt to weddings. The time for work was coming, not for wedlock. Young people who didn’t manage to marry during the winter were parting near a sad but friendly fire called Orlata and gave back each other their freedom.
The ultimate partying
Before advancing to the hard Todor’s Week, before the start of privations, humility, and fast, our people poured out all its vitality. The impetuous urge of the bodies was retracting hard, through unbridled enjoyment, fiery love, passion, songs, dances, warmth. On this rift day, everything seemed permitted. Sirnitsa is a holiday of the general communication, joyfulness, sharing with everybody – the whole community. It’s only at the end of the evening that the joy gets locked inside the family circle. Those at the table are the closest relatives. As soon as the next morning, everybody’s struggle with himself begins; communication is gradually restricted; the personality searches for and overcomes itself – like a prayer and like a confession.
The dinner is celebratory and lavish. It’s a last serving of milk, cheese, eggs: this is why the holiday is called Sirnitsa (sirene= cheese). The dinner ends with the so called hamkane (gobbling) rite – of white halva, eggs, cheese, or even a piece of charcoal. Just touching the magic bite with your teeth is still worthwhile, for it will make them white and strong. The egg or the cheese that were suspended on the string may serve as remedies along the year, so care should be taken of them. If the shells of the eggs eaten on Sirni Zagovezni are thrown onto the road, hens will lay more eggs. If the leftovers from the stout meal are left until the next morning and the kids eat them, spotted baby lambs will be born.
Health and life, fruitfulness and luck of the dwellers, the crops, and the livestock are foretold by the burning of the string on which the halva was suspended. If the string is dedicated to a lass and a lad, and it burns fast, it’s thought that they’ll marry next autumn.
There’s a belief that if a man doesn’t eat or drink anything on the Monday after Sirnitsa, he’ll capture a swarm of bees in the summer.
The fast in the calendar of holidays
The fast is not a diet. Regardless of how healthy it is, how beneficial it is to the body, its intention is aimed at the sphere of the spirit – our invisible possession that we sometimes carelessly forget. To prevent that from happening for good, to preserve and carry on the values of the spirit, the Christian Church has imposed fasting prior to its most emblematic events. That means abstention from meat and any food of animal origin, and much more: rejecting anything material – money, glitz, vanity, ambitions of power. That means an introvert glance – at those things hidden from the eyes and that we only can sense with our soul. The fast is care of this soul; an acknowledgement that it exists and needs attention. The total purification achieved has the significance of the Eucharist and is much more than merely freeing the organism from accumulated toxins. For Christians, it’s a time of humility, grief, insight, search of God. The days of each fast are a period of crisis, a boundary, a limit, a transition through a universe of chaos, which must be organized, and man should help that happen.
To old-time Bulgarians, nutrition is not merely a necessity of life. Through food, people are either uniting with nature or drifting away from it. Bread is sacred. It is the body of Christ; it’s a symbol of birth, death, and resurrection for a new life, a sign of the continual and unchanging cycle.
The Christian calendar posts fasting twice a week and before four great holidays – Christmas, Easter, Petrovden (June 29), and Golyama Bogoroditsa (Assumption of Mary [Theotokos], August 15). That makes about 230 days per annum. Each week, two days remind of the capture of Christ (Wednesday) and of his Passion (Friday). Every good Christian must revere these days; the more this applies to “pregnant women – in order to give birth to healthy and handsome children – and shepherds – to prevent wolves’ attacks on flocks,” adds our people. Fasting is also required on January 5, on August 29 (Seknovenie, St. John Precursor), and on September 14 (Krastovden, one of four holidays of the Holy Cross). On these days, the universe is in crisis, petrified midway between good and evil, between the heavens and the earth, and it needs the help of humans to make the right step.
According to some legends, the lengthy fasts have originated from the sins of humans. Others link their appearance with the crafts of those saints whose holiday is subsequent. Thus, for instance, it’s recounted that St. Nicholas was a fisherman and to make sure he could sell the fish caught, he instituted a fast and moved his holiday ahead to the end of the fast. Likewise, Christ was a swineherd, St. Peter – a gardener, and the Holy Mother of God – a beekeeper. By the edict of fasts, the saints didn’t have any problem selling their stock at the most appropriate time. Some said also that fasts were devised because “once upon a time people were eating too much meat and were getting ill with rabies”.
Whatever the truth, our people keeps it in its memory as a fairy tale, in which it has brought together all three issues: the humans’ sins and the attempt to overcome them through spiritual cleansing, the economic year and the products of labour during the different seasons, and the objective of healthy lifestyle and nutrition.