The 20th of July is Ilinden, a special holiday in Bulgaria. This day is dedicated to the celebration of the Saint Elijah (Iliya in Bulgarian), an Israeli prophet and miracle worker from the 9th century B.C. It is stated in the ancient texts of the Books of Kings that Elijah was a man that lived during the reign of King Ahab. Ahab and his wife Jezebel, a Phoenician princess and priestess of Baal, were encouraging the worship of Baal, the Caananite god of rain, thunder, and lightning. Elijah predicted that a horrible drought would befall the people of Israel, a way for God to punish the King and his followers for the worship of false idols. Elijah’s prediction proved to be correct, and Israel suffered a nearly 4 year long drought. Elijah then confronted King Ahab and the prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel, where both sides preformed sacrifices to their respective gods to see which one was the true God. The sacrifice to Baal failed, and Elijah called upon God to accept his sacrifice. God accepted and it began to rain, finally ending the long drought.
The day of Saint Elijah is a favorite summer holiday among the Bulgarian people. The hottest days of summer in Bulgaria (Gorestnitsi) are from the 17th to the 20th of July. It is during this period that the people honor Elijah. Following their folkloric traditions, the people sacrifice their oldest rooster, and a great feast takes place. There are many legends and superstitions that coincide with this holiday. Farmers pray for summer rains for their crops, as it is believed that Elijah is the bringer of rain and storms. It is also said that you should not enter the sea on the day of Saint Elijah, for this is the day that the sea claims the highest number of victims. In certain parts of the country, a special ritual takes place on the day preceding the feast, where a fake dragon, a symbol of drought, is hunted down and destroyed.
This year, a large folklore festival was held in the town of Rozhen to commemorate the Saint. Over 350,000 people gathered in an open field in the Rhodopes to take part in the traditional songs and dances, as well as get a taste of some delicious Bulgarian cuisine. This was the largest crowd in the festival’s history, which was held for the first time in nine years. Over 8,000 singers, dancers and bagpipers provided entertainment for the event, clad in their traditional Bulgarian costumes. If you missed out on the folklore festival, it will be held again next year from July 17th to July 19th, we hope to see you there!