Ritual table: cheese pastry, rite bread, cheese pumpkin, eggs, white halvah with nuts, fish.
Seven weeks before Easter and one week after the Meat Fasting is celebrated Shrove Sunday, also known as Cheese Fasting – a holiday, which marks the beginning of the longest period of fasting during the whole year.
The festive dinner has the character of a ritual. The whole family – parents, sons, daughters and grandchildren gather in the evening of the holiday to feast with milk containing meals. The excitement during the dinner increases when the time for the Hamkane custom comes. The cheese fasting day is time for forgiveness – the young ask the old for forgiveness, children apologize to their parents, they kiss the hand of the elderly saying: “Forgive me, mother, father…”. “You are forgiven, God will forgive you” is the obligatory response that follows.
The most characteristic and essential rite on this day is the lighting of the ceremonial fires. The traditional folk dances played on Cheese fasting are the last for the winter festive cycle. No folk dances are performed during the Lent with the exception of the Buenetsa dance.
The Koukeri ritual at Shrove Sunday Shrove Sunday (also known as the First Sunday before the Lent) - is the day for forgiveness. According to Bulgarian traditions, family members are giving each other their forgiveness during a family dinner later that day. People use set phrases, such as “Forgive me, mother, ..father, ..” and “Let all be forgiven to you,.. God forgives” to ask and give their pardoning to their close ones. The popular ritual of “hamkane” is performed that night – a peeled boiled egg, a piece of halva or a coal is tied to a piece of thread hanging from a long pole. Then the thread is moved around in large circles and everyone around the feast table (especially the younger kids) is trying to catch it with mouth only (no use of hands is allowed)…
The most typical tradition connected to that day is starting the feast fires. Right from the very dawn, a Koukeri band starts its walk around everybody’s home. By means of various symbolic and ritual-magic actions, they are wishing health, land fertility and prosperity to the hosts.
At Shrove Sunday, the spirit gets purged by the forgiveness given and asked for, the body gets stronger if the person manages to jump over the fire, and the nature sends away evil forces by the ringing of the Koukeri bells. The dance of those masked men brings blessing and land fertility. A Kouker young woman (also called “bride”) starts ploughing the field and calls fertility, health and good luck to come into people’s houses.