fra_angelico_-_baptism_of_christOn 7 January, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church celebrates the day of Saint John the Baptist, who baptised Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. John indicated Jesus as the Lamb of God. Perhaps one of the best-known traditions for Ivanovden (Saint John’s Day) is the tossing of a wooden cross into a river or lake by the local priest, with all the local men then jumping into the water in an attempt to be the first to retrieve the cross.

Newly married women and baby girls aged one year or less are to bathe. On this day in south-western Bulgaria, young girls and young men and those who have name day are also to get wet with water. The ritual involves the exchanging of gifts, social calls and feasting. Traditional food served includes boiled wheat, beans, stewed dried fruit, banitsa, roasted lukanka (a type of salami) and pork ribs with cabbage.

Customs and rituals for health associated with the belief of the miraculous power of water on Yordanovden (ie, Jordan’s Day, 6 January) continue also on this day, Ivanovden. Yordanovden traditions differ according to the region of the country. One of the names for the holiday is Muzhki Voditsi (meaning something like “male water-sprinklers”); this is when the best men sprinkle water on newlywed couples (those who were married within the past year’s time) and on baby boys who are one year old or younger. Young families are to visit and give their best man wine, meat and kravai, a traditional ring-shaped bread.

The image in this post is a reproduction of Fra Angelico’s Baptism of Christ, c.1441. Fresco, 179 x 148. Museo di San Marco, Cell 24, Florence, Italy.