Traditions, fires and supermarkets

In case you haven’t noticed Christmas is coming!  There is little difference between the shop displays in Bulgaria than in the UK.  Lights, decorations, trees, advent calendars are ubiquitous in the city shops.  I was extremely disappointed not to find any traditional Bulgarian decorations.  Last year I had seen goats instead of reindeer as ornaments, in fact I believe Sofia hosted a massive festively decorated cane work Goat in the centre.  So I’m struggling to find a traditional Bulgarian christmas decoration to send to William to put on his tree.  I thought it would be a good age to introduce a tradition.  Each year I will buy him a different decoration.  The nearest I could get was a pair of wooden ski’s painted in light blue and tied with string.  I will need to spread my wings and extend my geographical search parameters before next Christmas.  Christmas Eve is the big festive meal and is a rich menu of mainly vegetarian fare including a pita (bread) with a coin baked in and that the national treasure, ergo, the walnut that if when cracked is large and tasty purport    a successful coming year.  Amalia will be thrilled to hear the Christmas Eve meal with be meatless, Terry not so much.  It is also good to know some of the Greek traditions we are used to are coming across the 2 counties such as the penny baked in unlevened bread.

I have ordered Williams presents and this is probably the most organised I have ever been at this time of the year.  James sent me pictures of William at Santas grotto and my heart filliped because last Christmas I took him to Santas grotto.  However remaining positive we have broken our Skype cherry and it is a joy to see his adorable face and listen to his chit chat.  I keep the long term goals in my mind at all times.  He is 5 now but it won’t be long till he will be able to travel accompanied, as Ami and James did, back and forth from UK to Greece.

We will also miss the UK family Christmas meal.  It is usually the one time of the year that we are all together in the same place and same time.  The food, the company and the shared stories will be much missed.  Everybody’s year is precised and recounted till we are all up to date.  My parents have hosted this meal for a very long time as have Terrys.  Each household hosts some constant guests and some variables to accommodate the sharing of this Christmas meal across family units.  This year we will be three at our house, Terry, Amalia and I.  This Christmas is going to evolve and will be somewhat of an experiment as to how we actually want the day to pan out.  It is exciting to start another family tradition and who knows, in years to come at Christmas we may be in a position go host a family Christmas right here.  Not forgetting our 4 legged friends we miss Lexie and Brutus, James’s dogs.  Brutus is the extraordinarily large son of our Staffie cross, Vinnie and James’s Rottweiler cross, Lexie.  First of a litter of 11 he was twice the size of the other 10 pups.  He weighed in at 7.5 stone at 6 months.  Imagine a dog shaped like a Rottweiler and coloured like a Staffie and almost as big as a St Bernard.  Here are the pair of them festively adorned for Yuletide


Learning to set, feed and keep a fire alight is becoming second nature to us.  We have recently acquired that much sought after skill of keeping the fire alight overnight.  We rarely have to relight the fire in the morning.  When we began using the pechka one of us would have to get up and get the fire going.  As you can imagine it was becoming a  contentious issue at 05:30 and before a hot drink. Now it is a joy to open the little metal door of a morning and see those cheery red embers winking in their ashy duvet.  Choices of combustibles are important too.  Pine is meant for furniture and the ashes are not good to compost nor do they produce much heat but splinters and small pieces are excellent for getting an almost instant combustion.  Eco logs are added on top and then logs.  Of course hardwood logs burn for longer and more slowly, especially oak.  Fruit trees also burn well.  What I still struggle with on the pyro front is that I walk around with black marks on certain parts of my body.  Hands and arms have soot marks from feeding the fire and my knees are black and blue from breaking sticks over them.  I obtained a black pinky nail  whilst trying to split a log with the axe.   Fortunately it was the head and not the blade of the axe that my pinky came into contact with.  I have actually shot out of the house on an errand having quickly put on a dress and boots and a smear of lipstick, then couldn’t understand why the teller at the bank kept looking in my direction with absolute pity.  As I left the bank I saw in the reflection of a stainless steel panel 2 huge black soot marks down the side of my face and on my forehead.  The shame!


That’s what I’m talking about.  05:30 this morning and we were in bed at 9pm last night.  That is the remains of an oak log with a few scraps of pine to ignite the little pyramid of wood before feeding it.

As I write it is 20.25 on St Nikolaos day in Bulgaria.  Ilia bought around a bottle of red wine and some grapes and to tell us it was St Nikolaos day and that it was traditional to eat carp.  I kicked the door of the summer kitchen shut as he explained the tradition.  In the background I had some newly discovered British type bangers sizzling away next to onion gravy and mustard mash.  I didn’t want to permeate the somewhat fishy air over the village with the olfactorial evidence of my meaty meal.  It’s written on here now so I will be able to refer back to this for next year.  Then I can join the queue at Absolut (not the vodka but the local supermarket) to pick out a huge, live, mousey coloured carp from the oversized fish tank on the deli counter.  Once chosen these ancient Ictharians are grabbed from the tank and unceremoniously whacked on the head with a hammer, are gutted and scaled, wrapped in wax paper and delivered to the customer.  There are no gasps of horror at the barbarity of the procedure.  It doesn’t even register on the rdar of the children queueing with their parents.  I haven’t had the courage to whip out my camera in my local supermarket; I am still the subject of much eyeballing.    I’ve borrowed the image below from a Serbian site where I’m assuming the geographical proximity of the border  and the similarity in religion promotes similar traditions.


On the supermarket front whilst I have mentioned the stares what I should say is that I have become a bit of a pet project amongst the predominantly female staff.  My Bulgarian is “tested” for approval and discussed for its merit.  Right in front of me.  It took some time to get what was happening till I found myself at the till in front of a mischievous middle aged assistant and her friend.  The usual routine played out; did I want a bag, could I pack etc.  Then as the items rolled through the till she began asking me questions.  It took me by surprise because most of the cashiers don’t really converse but smile at me.  It took a moment before I got my wits about me and started to really listen.  She asked me what village I lived in.  It took a couple of seconds till I answered Gradishte.  She genuinely smiled at her friend in approval.  Did I like Bulgaria?  Yes, I replied.  Bulgaria is beautiful.  What was my house like?  I reciprocated with the information that it was a remodel and we had much work to do.  I was perspiring at this point because speaking another language requires confidence and the ability to ignore the fact that you sound like a 4 year old still mastering the language.  There were no further questions so I looked up to meet her eyes and found that all 4 cashiers were beaming and started discussing that I could speak some Bulgarian which was more than many ex pats.  Of course I fluffed the next question but everyone smiled at me in sympathy.  I’m not great at people skills so this was both uncomfortable being the centre of attention but also a secret little triumph for me.

I never leave for the supermarket now till I’ve looked up the names of products I need but don’t know the Bulgarian translation.  I can now ask for my bacon to be sliced, lengthways and thinly rather than receiving  lump of uncut bacon.  I didn’t get it right immediately and for weeks when I made a mistake the ladies on the deli counter all raised their heads in unison and corrected me.  The pressure to get it right was immense because it is a particular tongue twister – 400 грама нарязан бекон. Моля, нарязва го по дължина or 400 grama naryazan beckon. Molya, naryazva po dulzhina.  I have it on my phone just in case!

I’m going to finish up rather randomly with an image of one of a series of caricatures Amalia made during the last political campaign.  They are all lost now in that way that young people jettison their belongings in-between accommodation swaps.  This image is all that remains.  We actually love this and to put it into context it shows Cameron with an anus for a mouth suggest that what comes out of his mouth is ….  So this image is in lieu of the updates I want to post of the building work but am trying not to.  I want to do a big reveal to showcase the skills, dedication and sheer hard work of Terry.



7 thoughts on “Traditions, fires and supermarkets

  1. Hey Sam

    where do you find these books? Definitely one for the library. I read a long poem some time ago about types of wood and their burning potential. How I wish I had kept it. We currently have 4 wood positions. An outside pile which is tarped and uncut. We have cut logs under the summer kitchen patio roof. We have a wood store in the second hallway and then finally we have piles of logs by the pechka. This is so the wood dries and warms in stages. I have no idea until I read that book if we are doing a good thing or a wrong thing. I do know that we are more toasty warm n this house than in our old UK house!Corinne


  2. Good to hear you are warm, the book was a gift and it details the treatment of wood from cutting to burning. Has some great pictures and all sorts of useful info. Sounds like you are winter ready in terms of your wood supply, time to train the dogs to pull a sled!


  3. I will order the book because it sounds extremely useful. On the training the dog front I have just been looking at an old wooden sled with a seat – uhhhm maybe I should act upon this serendipitous coming together of information and opportunity!


  4. I am told dog sledding can be pretty unpleasant because sled dogs run and shit at the same time much like race horses so you end up covered in a shitty slush. I reckon you would be safe with your dogs though.


  5. Hello Corrine and Terry, glad to hear all is going well. Really enjoyed the regular update as usual. We have a Polish shop in Kendal and I was interested to see they are advertising carp for Christmas. Presumably they will be sold already dead, would there be an outcry if they were served a la Bulgaria I wonder? I look forward to the big reveal of the work on the house, most impressed with the progress last time we saw it. It is hard to imagine what a winter that could reach minus 30 would be like, your interest in fuel sounds a very good idea! Look forward to the next installment.


  6. Hey Keith and Kaz – are you all ready for the Yuletide Felicitations? Amalia is arriving on Tuesday and we are in a state of architectural deshabille’s!. We’re thoroughly enjoying this season, another first here. At -8 degrees we have our little pechka and a pile of wood. We’ve never been warmer. Good insulation is definitely the way to go. I think eastern Europe has less of a highly developed animal cruelty conscience when it comes to our pescatarian friends and who can blame them?



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