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Day of Saints Constantine and Helena

Photo: BGNES

21 May is the day of the Saints Constantine and Helena. Constantine was the first officially recognized Roman emperor who was Christian. In 313, Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity equal to all other religions and putting an end to the persecution of Christians. According to some sources, Constantine sent his mother Helena, who was 80 at the time, to Jerusalem to find and bring back Christian relics. Legend has it that Helena pointed to the spot where three crosses were found, one of them – the true cross. Several churches were built at her bidding – in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. There are dozens of churches in Bulgaria which celebrate their patron saints’ day today, some served as houses of prayer as far back as the early Middle Ages. In the region of Strandzha, the nestinari (dancers on live embers) perform their dance with the icon of the saints, usually on 3 June (old style).

In other parts of the country, different rituals are performed on this day. In some villages vine shoots are snapped off, in others – herds are taken out to graze, something that is also done on the day of St. George. 

There are many songs dedicated to Constantine and Helena, some are fascinating, especially the ones in the nestinari villages in the Strandzha region which tell stories about ancient rituals. One such song is about Constantine and Helena visiting with granny Nuna and granny Zlata (real persons, legendary nestinari dancers from Bulgari village). There, they sit down to “eat bread together” and to arrange to meet on the “day of Saint Constantine” to the “skirl of bagpipes and the beat of drums”.

On the days just before and after the day of the Saints Constantine and Helena, many villages in the Strandzha region organize what is known as a panagir (a village fair), with lots of music and dancing. The song Dimo maika si dumashe,  Dimo was saying to his mother – is a song about one such village fair. It is performed by Marina Parusheva from Indzhe Voivoda village near Burgas.

All people named after the Saints Constantine and Helena celebrate their name day on 21 May. But so do many others, with names that are derivatives, such as Elka, Elena, Lena, Lenko, Kostadin, Kostadinka, Dinko etc. There are songs, celebrating the day of the Saints Constantine and Helena, which make mention of these names. One of them is a cheerful song from the repertoire of Dobra Savova, from the northern part of the country, in which Elenka is said to be as sweet as a “rose bud”.

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