St. George’s Day (Erdelez)
The best holiday is the family holiday – when the whole family gathers. That is why it is the holidays – to remind us of something else, something that makes us a family, that brings us together, that unites us.
St. George’s Day (Erdelez): St. George’s Day is the biggest Roma holiday in Bulgaria. It is celebrated by all Roma groups (except for the very Turkish parts of the Horahane-Roma, among which it was celebrated until recently) and for all of them St. George’s Day is the main holiday, including for the Roma-Muslims. Bango Vasili plays the role of the main holiday only among the Burgudjii and Drundaris, but St. George’s Day is also celebrated with great splendor.
The Kaldarashi and the miners usually call the holiday “St. George” or “St. George’s Day”, and the Yerlii – “Hederlez”, “Huderlez” or “Erdelez”. It is celebrated for three days, and for some (for example for the Roma people from the village of Vodoley) it is 4.5 and 6 May, for others (for example the musicians from Salmanovo) – 5, 5 and 7 May, and for others ( eg the Kardam coppersmiths) – 6, 7 and 8 May.
The celebration of St. George’s Day is associated with the belief that St. George is the savior of the Roma (as St. Vasil) and the legend that the dragon of an evil king began to eat the Roma, but St. Georgi killed him (Nunev 2000: 111-112). In addition, Erdelez was celebrated as the beginning of spring, in really warm weather, for this reason the whole ritual is full of spring symbols.
The celebration of St. George’s Day is different not only among different Roma groups, but also varies among members of the same group living in different places. For example, the musicians from Ivanski and Salmanovo celebrate the real holiday on the night of May 5 and 6 in the nearby forest, while the musicians from Zlataritsa celebrate it on the day of May 6 in a family atmosphere. Despite the many differences, some common elements can be found:
Preparing for the holiday: The most important element in the preparation is buying a lamb. It is widely believed that the sacrificial lamb must spend the night in the house, so it is bought no later than May 4 or 5. In some groups – e.g. the musicians from Zlataritsa the festivities start from the moment the lamb enters the house. Then the gates are decorated with flowering branches – usually beech and willow, and a wreath and a candle are placed on the head of the lamb, after which it is said “for health”. In other groups of Roma, the festive decoration of the houses with flowering branches on May 5 is also accepted, but the placing of a wreath with a candle and the incense is performed on the morning of 6.05.
For the Burgudjii, the preparation starts from Easter with the painting of the first egg and the making of a special St. George’s candle. As we have mentioned, the first red egg on Easter is preserved and it is placed in the mouth of the roasted St. George’s Day lamb. Also on Holy Saturday (before Easter) a special candle with red thread is made. It ignites for a while during the night before Easter and separates. The next ignition is on the evening of May 5, and the complete burning – on 6.05. before the lamb is slaughtered.
Among many Roma (eg musicians from Ivanski, horahane-Roma from Vodolei, etc.) it is accepted on 5.06. in the evening for each member of the family to tear off the nettle and hang it on the tiles. Whose nettle will wither and whose will not, it is judged what the year will be like for everyone – happy or sad.
Among the musicians from the village of Ivanski there was a custom (largely already lost) on the evening of May 5 for everyone to bathe in water full of herbs and plants – St. George’s Day, nettle, glue and others. It is not difficult to see in this action a ritual cleansing before the holiday, spring symbolism and hope for the expulsion of diseases and for health during the year.
Walking “for green”: The custom of walking “for green” at 5 against 6 in the evening is widespread among the drummers and basket makers from Shumen region. All the Roma go to the forest, light fires and have fun all night. In the morning, they return by wearing flowering branches (“green”) to decorate the gates of the houses.
Ritual slaughter of the lamb: For most Roma, the slaughter of the lamb-sacrifice is extremely solemn. It is usually done early in the morning on May 6. Exceptions are the musicians from Salmanovo and Ivanski and the basket makers from Marash, where the lamb can be slaughtered on the evening of May 5.
It was customary for the Kaldarashi to slaughter a lamb for each boy in the house. Today, due to economic difficulties, this custom is beginning to be abandoned, although it is still observed in some families. Among other Roma groups, the tradition is for each house to slaughter one lamb. And somewhere (for example in the village of Marash) a lamb is slaughtered only by the nouns who distribute the meat to the other Roma in the neighborhood.
Before being sacrificed, the lamb is decorated. On his head is placed a wreath of gergeva, wheat, geranium and spring flowers (eg in the Kaldarashi) or in blooming twigs and willow (eg in the musicians from Zlataritsa and Lyaskovets). Somewhere they additionally decorate the lamb with red paint and necklaces (the village of Vodolei). The aim is to show the richness of the coming spring through the decorations and to pray for fertility and prosperity.
One or two candles are placed on the gum, which are lit before the lamb is slaughtered. For the Burgudjii from G. Oryahovitsa, this is the St. George’s Day candle specially made on Holy Saturday, decorated with red thread, nettles and grass, which we wrote about above. While the candle (s) are burning, the lamb is incense and blessed. This custom is still well preserved among the Kaldarashi, and in other Roma groups it is practically not performed, although there are memories of it.
Among the Burgudjii there is a custom of giving salt to the lamb. In this way it is checked what the year will be like – if he eats a lot of salt, it portends a good year and vice versa.
Then proceed to the slaughter itself. In the case of the Kaldarashi (eg the coppersmiths from Kardam, the riders from Dryanovo, etc.) it is performed by the oldest man – the head of the family. Even if he is already weak, he slaughters the lamb and gives it to his sons to skin and roast. For the musicians from Zlataritsa, the slaughter is performed by an outsider.
The blood from the lamb is not allowed to flow on the ground. It is collected and thrown into the river (along with the trifles and bones) on May 7. This is done “so that a person can walk all year round” and “so that the blood does not go to a dirty place”. Only among the drandars this custom is not preserved – in Zlataritsa the blood of the lamb is not taken special care, but it is remembered that years ago it was thrown into running water. In the village of Ivanski, the blood is buried in the ground as a “sacrifice on the ground”.
In the case of the rumble and rumble, the blood of the lamb is placed on the foreheads of the children. This is done “for health”. This custom was not registered with the other Roma groups in Central Bulgaria.
The lamb is not cut into pieces. It is baked whole on a barbecue or on a tray, and the insides are sewn together and baked in the same way. In the case of the Kaldarashs, for health and fertility, the skewer of the barbecue is washed from the head of the family with a special tinned pot full of water, geranium and cereals.
St. George’s Day table: For some Roma (eg individual families from the Dryanovo ridges) a special table is made for St. George’s Day – necessarily round, made so that “there are no nails in it”. The reason for the absence of a nail is that the iron rusts: “On this table is placed the lamb, the sacrifice – it is not good to have iron or anything in it when it rusts.”
The lamb is placed in the middle of the table, richly decorated. A red egg (the first Easter egg), a slice of bread, a paper steam (at the highest possible value) and a gold steam are placed in his mouth. Fresh garlic is placed next to the lamb – it is against lessons and brings health. It is obligatory to put red wine on the table – “the blood of Jesus. The wine is the real thing, it’s not like the brandies that go through cauldrons. ”
Before lunch begins, the table is set. Then the oldest – the head of the family and his wife (in some – his brother) take the ritual bread (the so-called fist), lightly cut it in the form of a cross and pour red wine in the four holes at the edges, calling: “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Amen!” And they break the fist in two, everyone kisses the two pieces, then they break it in two more and kiss the pieces of bread again. Then the head of the family takes a candle, says a prayer and extinguishes the candle in the wine bottle, placing it three times in the opening of the bottle and only the fourth time extinguishing it. All this is done three times. Thus, the table is considered lit and lunch can begin.
This custom is well preserved among the Kaldarashi. In the other Roma groups there are only elements of it.
The custom of selling the head of the lamb is preserved again among the Kaldaras, as well as among the Burgudjii. As mentioned above, it is richly decorated. The person standing to the left clockwise takes the head from the host and sells it to the person standing next to him on the left. They both hold fresh garlic in their hands. During the bargain, the buyer tries to steal the head, but the seller hits him in the hands with garlic “to keep away bad thoughts and evil spirits.” Thus, the head is sold from person to person – left clockwise until it reaches the host. All this is a special form of play – real money is not given.
Bathing and tying swings: St. George’s Day is usually associated with a lot of fun and good mood, expressed in various ways. In almost all Roma groups, it is customary for young people to bathe in the river on this day to show that the warm weather has really come and the water is not cold. It is also customary for young men to tie swings for girls and, while swinging them, to ask them about their future marriage, and so on.
“Singing the rings”: The custom of “singing the rings” on St. George’s Day is widespread among all Roma groups. Its essence is expressed in predicting (semi-seriously, semi-jokingly) the future marriage of young girls. The custom is generally performed on 5.05. in the evening and 6.05. in the morning.
The night before St. George’s Day, the unmarried girls gather and put a ring or other sign (bracelet, necklace) in a bucket of water. Then geranium is put in the water and left overnight under a rose. For musicians, the collection of rings is especially solemn – with music. At dawn on St. George’s Day, before sunrise, the girls gather again at the bucket. The one who sings best covers her face with a veil so that she cannot see and sing different songs, alternating happy and sad. As she sings, she pulls a ring out of the bucket. It is believed that if she takes out the ring singing a cheerful song, the girl’s marriage will be happy and vice versa.
Here is a video for the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZf00ad3G6o
And here you will be able to find a short video about how the individual groups celebrate the holiday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeatO32y3R4