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Ilinden: A Bulgarian Summer Holiday (Feast of St. Ilia)

Summary:

Celebrated annually on 20 July, Ilinden, the Feast of St. Ilia, is among the most famous of the summer holidays and name days in Bulgaria.

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Celebrated annually on the 20th July in Bulgaria, Ilinden is among some of the most famous Bulgarian summer holidays and name days. The most famous superstition connected with this day is the belief that this is the day on which the sea takes the biggest number of victims. More people drown in the sea on Ilinden, Bulgarians believe, as a sacrifice to St. Ilia (the saint to whom this day is devoted). That’s why most Bulgarians avoid the beach on this day (in honor of the saint).

Superstitions connected with Ilinden

  • If there is a thunderstorm on Ilinden, the hazelnut and walnut crop will be bad (the nuts will be dry inside their shells). Wine crop, on the other hand, will be great, which will definitely compensate for the bad nuts’ crop…
  • If you work on this day, St. Ilia will get really mad and will send you lightnings and hailstorms. It is believed that you can even get struck by lightning! This rule was followed in the past as nowadays nobody would take a day off just because it is Ilinden;
  • You shouldn’t bathe in the sea as you may easily drown;
  • You should be careful which person to welcome first in your home on this day. If the person is good and generous, your whole next year will be prosperous. If it is a bad person, your whole next year will be full of misfortunes and bad luck.

Related Read: 7+ Things to Do in Bulgaria: Best Bulgarian Places to Go & Sites to See

Popular mythology connected with St. Ilia

According to the popular mythology, St. Ilia rides a fire chariot and flies it in the skies. He is the chosen one to rule the thunders and lightnings. Except for the summer thunderstorms, he is also responsible for the drought that, according to the national superstitions, takes place in periods in which people have started losing their faith in God.

Related Read: Slavic Gods & Goddesses: Intro Into the Key Deities in Slavic Mythology

St. Ilia and the dragons

Bulgarians believe that St. Ilia is capable of fighting dragons. In this reference, his image is very close to the image of St. George (whose holiday is celebrated on 6th March each year). It is believed that when there is a thunderstorm, it is the result of St. Ilia fighting dragons and lamias in the skies. Nowadays Bulgarians rarely believe in these superpowers of the saint but in the past stories about his fights with dragons used to be told in the form of fairy tales in all houses with small children (especially on Ilinden).

Related Read: Orthodox Christmas: When It’s Celebrated, History, and Holiday Traditions

St. Ilia and the end of the world

There is one really peculiar legend about St. Ilia and his sisters. Once, he told his two sisters that he would put an end to the world on the day of his name day. His two sisters, knowing that he is capable of doing it, still keep lying to him that his name day is either past or yet to come. According to this legend, it is the two sisters of St. Ilia we have to thank for not bringing the world to an end!

Related Read: Eniovden: Bulgarian Midsummer & St. John’s Eve

Rituals performed on Ilinden

As St. Ilia is among the fiercest saints according to the Bulgarian beliefs, a “kurban” is prepared to beg mercy from him on Ilinden. Usually, a rooster, a lamb or an ox is killed and then its meat is roasted or boiled and eaten. This is believed to relent St. Ilia and make him stop sending summer thunderstorms, hailstorms, or draught. Traditionally, Bulgarian village people perform the rituals “German” and “Peperuda” on Ilinden – both performed with the hope that they will bring rain to the land and thus save the crops.

Related Read: Bread in Bulgaria: Meaning, Symbols, Traditions & Superstitions

Hristina Dimitrova
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Hristina Dimitrova
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