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Dimitrovden - the day of Saint Demetrius

Photo: Архив
Hello and welcome to this edition of Folk Studio on Radio Bulgaria!
Today we offer you a feature on one of the best loved holidays in the Bulgarian festive calendar, the day of Saint Demetrius (in Bulgarian Saint Dimitar), hence Dimitrovden, and traditionally celebrated each year on October 26. Bulgarian folklore has preserved many customs and beliefs related to Dimitrovden, as well as numerous stories and legends of the life of the saint. In this folk studio hosted by Rossitsa Petcova, we offer you some of the most interesting legends and fairytales about Saint Demetrius that have been preserved in Bulgarian folklore!

The church feast of Saint Demetrius marked by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on October 26 pays homage to the holy martyr Demetrios born in Thessaloniki in the 3rd century A.D. Brought up as a Christian, well-educated and endowed with many skills, Demetrius was for some time taking a military post. His father was one of the town’s chiefs of Thessaloniki, which was part of the Roman Empire at that time. After his father’s death, young Demetrius was chosen to take his father’s post. For disseminating the Christian faith, he was thrown into prison and later sentenced to death.
Saint Demetrius performed many miracles during his life. He cured the sick and gave hope to people even from the prison dungeon. Many miraculous healings occurred also in the small temple erected upon his grave. Many religous chants glorify the deeds of Saint Demetrius according to his religious biographies.

In fairytales and legends, his image overlaps with the official religious depiction. Bulgarian folk tales describe him as a brave warrior and protector of the poor and feeble.
As a Bulgarian saying goes, Saint George brings summer and Saint Demetrius brings winter. According to folk beliefs, Saint George and Saint Demetrius were twin brothers. Here is one of the most popular legends about them:

There was once a poor man who used to go finishing every day. Once he caught a small fish. It spoke to him with a human voice and begged him to let it go. The man was merciful and went back home that day with nothing to eat. Some time later, he caught the same fish but it was now bigger. He let it go again. The same thing happened a third time. The man decided to release the fish again but the it spoke to him: “Poor man, don’t let me go this time. Take me back to your house and cook a meal for you and your wife. Then, bury the bones under the mangers of your mare”.
The poor man was feeling sad for the fish but obeyed its words. Soon, his wife gave birth to two boys, and the mare to two foals. One boy was named Dimitar, and the other George. The boys grew and became strong and handsome lads. One day, they saddled their horses and set off to travel around the world. They reached a crossroads. Georgi took the left road and Dimitar - the right. Some time passed and Dimitar received a sign that his brother was in danger. He headed to look for him but all he could find was his horse – Georgi had been eaten by dragons. Dimitar managed to make the dragons return the soul of his brother. The twins mounted their horses and became saints. Thus they soared to heaven and started helping ordinary people on earth.

A patron of winter and cold, Dimitar has a long white beard from which snow is falling – this is the popular folk portrayal of this saint. His day is considered to be the beginning of the second half of the year – marking end of fieldwork and construction works. For this reason, Dimitrovden in Bulgaria is celebrated as the holiday of construction workers.
In some regions, the day is called “Razpust”, meaning letting go. On this day, masters used to give a day off to their servants. A fairytale was born our of this belief, telling of how Saint Demetrius was once in prison. But in this story, his brother has the name of Michail. The story goes as follows:

All saints in heaven gathered and approached God, explaining that someone had set fire to the monasteries on Mount Athos. The two brothers, Dimitar and Michail, were branded as the culprits. They were thrown into prison for three years, and for three years all servants did not have a single day free of work, all shepherds did not have a day of rest, and not a single drop of rain fell from the sky.
Saint Petka and Saint Nedelya, dressed in black and green garments, went to beseech God to set Demetrius free. But God replied: “Demetrius is not to be freed”. Then the two saints turned to the Mother of Christ. She was the one who kept the keys to the dungeon. She begged her Son to set Dimitar free and reinstate order in the world, and he was finally released.

In the past, engagements and weddings were often made on the Day of Saint Demetrius. On that day, young girls danced the so-called “sglyadno horo”, a traditional round dance performed by only young unmarried girls while young lads and their parents watched them to choose their future brides. Traditionally, the holiday is marked by many village fairs where songs and dances are an integral part of the festivities.

According to folk beliefs, if there is always a full moon on the day of Saint Demetrius, then beehives will be full of honey and stables - with young lambs. The rituals of the holiday are most of all related to paying homage to the saint who protects servants, construction workers, as well as everyone named Dimitar, Dimitrina, and Dimo, Mitra, etc. According to a recent survey in Bulgaria, the name Dimitar is the third most popular male name in Bulgaria.

With this we have to the end of this edition of Folk Studio on Radio Bulgaria, bringing you today more about one of the most popular Christian Orthodox Saints in Bulgaria, Saint Demetrius, whose feast day is celebrated on October 26.
Thank you for listening and don’t forget to be with us next time! 

Translated by: Rossitsa Petcova

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