We may have commemorated St George’s Day in England earlier this year on 23 April but in the Orthodox calendar, it is celebrated on 6 May. In Bulgaria, it has been a public holiday since 1998, and was recognised as the Day of Valour and the Bulgarian armed forces in 1880. St George is the army’s patron saint.
Origins of St George’s Day in Bulgaria
Bulgaria became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1396 but in the late nineteenth century, uprisings in other parts of the Ottoman Empire spread to this region. In April 1877, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The war ended a year later with the signing of the San Stefano peace treaty, which created the independent state of Bulgaria. In 1880 the Bulgarian army was formed out of volunteer units who had participated in the war.
St George patron saint of shepherds
St George is the patron saint of shepherds so the day has become an important festival in the farming calendar. There is a legend that St George and St Demetrius were twin brothers for each half of the year (summer and winter). St George’s Day heralds the advent of summer and the crops growing in the fields. George is also the most celebrated saint’s day name in the calendar.
Who was St George?
St George was actually born in Cappadocia, Turkey, around 270 AD. He was a high-ranking officer in the Roman army who protested against the torture of Christians by the Romans. Roman emperor Diocletian ordered his death as he would not renounce his faith.
The myth of Saint George slaying the dragon originated in stories of his bravery brought back by the Crusaders. Legend has it that St George slayed a dragon in a village where it was terrorising the local people.
Celebrations in Bulgaria
Since St George’s Day is one of their most popular holidays, Bulgarians view it as an opportunity to celebrate with family and friends and have a feast. Roast lamb is traditional and often served with special celebration breads. Bread plays a very important part in the daily life of Bulgarians and comes in various shapes such as crosses and rings and filled with almonds and raisins.
Vanya’s recipe for mesenitza
My Bulgarian friend, Vanya often talks about the bread her mother used to make at various times of the year, especially at Easter. On St George’s Day, she would make mesenitza (tutmanik). It’s made with a special Bulgarian cheese but she says you can use feta. She has kindly given me her recipe to share with you:
What you need
For the dough
1 tbsp dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk
For the filling
350g feta cheese
½ cup olive oil
For the decoration
1 egg yolk
1 tsp oil
How to bake
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 100ml water. Mix the dough ingredients except the salt. Add the milk slowly.Form a dough and add the salt. Knead for about 10 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for about 45 minutes in a warm place.
Make the filling:
Beat the egg, crumble the cheese and add to the oil.
Divide the dough into several equal balls. Roll each ball to a thickness of about 1cm. Put some of the filling on each piece of dough and roll each piece of dough to form a cylinder shape. Place all the individual pieces to form a large circle and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Let this rise again for about 20 minutes in a warm place.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Brush the top of the bread with the egg yolk and milk mixture. Bake for about 30–35 minutes or until the bread is golden brown. Serve with yoghurt.
Other countries that celebrate St George’s Day include Canada, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Macedonia. St George is obviously a popular sort of guy!