Sveti Trifun Den
It’s only 10am but already fizzy pop bottles filled to the brim with homemade wine are lining up together on the table tops. Wine is not the only drink on today’s menu, but also rakia, a homemade grape brandy is also in abundance for sharing a glass, or ten! After some chat and exchanges of glass chinking, some live music starts up and we’re off to a local man’s garden for a ceremonial cutting of the vines.
A small procession, led by an accordion and trumpet player playing traditional Bulgarian songs, walks through the village streets of Nykup, just north of Veliko Tarnovo. Behind the music, folk follow including a woman wearing her national costume and another carrying the traditional offering of rounded bread whilst men chatter in jovial tones at the rear.
February 14th is not just dedicated to St Valentine but also to Sveti Trifon, the patron saint of wine and is a celebration for all wine lovers throughout the Balkans hailing it as a day to bless the new grape growing season. Orthodox Christian in its origins, it is a age-old ritual of the connection between the land and the spirits to wish a fruitful harvest of the coming wine year and St Trifun is its Guardian.
When we arrive at the home of a local wine maestro, our small crowd gathers around and under the bare vines. The music briefly stops long enough for an ode to this year’s crop given by the owner before three vines are cut and then placed as a crown on the heads of the men. Wine is passed around for us all to share and the breaking of bread is given out. Finally, the rite ends with the pouring of wine at the base of the vines and we all head back to the streets for some Bulgarian dancing.
Our procession returns to the village hall for an entire day dedicated to the drinking of wine and rakia, much merriment and music, and there is barely a moment where dancing and heartfelt, time-honoured songs doesn’t take over. The atmosphere is infectious and it doesn’t take too long before the entire village is completely inebriated…well into the night!