You all know about St Valentine’s Day, but have you heard of St Trifon’s Day? Probably not, unless you live in Bulgaria!
St Trifon’s Day is also celebrated on 14th February each year, just like St Valentine’s Day. But they are two very different celebrations.
Whereas on St Valentine’s Day you’ll receive flowers, cards, and/or gifts, and you may be taken out to dinner by the one you love (or by the one who loves you, whatever the case may be), St Trifon’s Day is a celebration of wine.
Or more specifically, winegrowers and winemakers.
St Trifon, also known as St. Trifon Zarezan (Trifon the Pruner), is the patron saint of winegrowers and winemakers, and since a lot of Bulgarians still make their own wine from their own grapes, it’s very important to give St Trifon the respect that he deserves.
So you can imagine how intrigued we were, after buying our Bulgarian village house and talking to our new neighbours, when we found out about this special day.
You see, we do like a bit of wine now and then. And we have grape vines growing in our garden.
Our new neighbours told us that they used to make wine with the previous owners of our house. They used to combine their grapes and make the wine together. We’ve had the pleasure of tasting the wine made from the grapes from our garden. It’s not bad for homemade wine.
We are looking forward to making some ourselves with this year’s harvest.
But let’s get back to St Trifon.
About St Trifon
Trifon was born sometime around 225 AD, in the Roman Province of Phrygia, in what is now Turkey. He and his family were Christians in a time when Christianity wasn’t the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Trifon was captured during a mass persecution of Christians, and after refusing to renounce his faith he was decapitated. So he became a martyr of Christianity.
So, how does this connect him with winegrowers?
I’m glad you asked.
The most popular explanation is that it’s thought that he was a winegrower himself, and that he came from the area where the grape vine originated from.
So, what happens on St Trifon’s Day?
St Trifon’s Day activities
It’s important as a winegrower that you prepare well for this day. Bread making is necessary along with preparing some food for the celebration. It’s common to prepare a roast chicken stuffed with rice.
Then, along with this food, the winegrower takes some wine and makes his way to his vineyard.
And then there are some ceremonial activities that must be undertaken to ensure a great harvest for the current year.
So on Sunday, 14th February, this year our neighbours came to see us at around 11am. They asked us to join them for the celebrations.
So we crossed the road and went inside their yard, not really knowing what we were going to find.
At the back of the house, near the vines, was a barbecue, several friends who had travelled over 200kms for the weekend to join in the fun, and a big ‘bucket’ of wine.
The food on the barbecue looked and smelt wonderful. Even though it wasn’t the traditional chicken and rice, we were really looking forward to eating a little later.
Then ‘rakia’ was served. Rakia is the national alcoholic drink here in Bulgaria. It’s similar in taste to cognac (or brandy) and is usually make from plums. It can also be made from a variety of other fruits.
The rakia was served warm mixed with honey, which was very welcome because it was below zero and we were standing outside having a barbecue! They said that it’s necessary to drink warm rakia to keep your feet warm.
The ritual of pruning the vines
Then the men take some secateurs and one by one they each cut a piece of last year’s growth from the vine. After each man cuts his piece (only one piece each, the real pruning is saved for another day), he then pours some of the wine from the bucket (which is wine made from last year’s harvest) onto the ground for fertility.
A wreath is then made from the pruned vine stick and worn on the head. The men also made wreaths for us women (because women don’t get to prune the vines on St Trifon’s Day), but I don’t think that’s part of the tradition. The neighbours also told us that these wreaths should be kept for a year until the next St Trifon’s Day, but we didn’t see any evidence of last year’s wreaths!
Traditionally, each village appoints a wine “king” after the pruning, and it’s only the wine king who wears a wreath made of the vine sticks. They go around to all the village houses and the wine king blesses all the vineyards and wishes success for the winegrowers of the village.
Unfortunately this year our village didn’t get together for this celebration, and people were left to have their own little ‘private’ St Trifon’s Day parties. We’re hoping that next year we’ll be able to experience the day’s traditions with the whole village.
It was a very fun ceremony, and during the pruning one of the friends recited a poem, or maybe it was a prayer, which we can only imagine was for blessing the new year’s grapes (our Bulgarian language skills are sadly still too immature to understand anything except basic conversation).
Usually, for a commercial vineyard, a priest is part of the day’s events and he will bless the wines and takes part in the pruning ritual.
After the pruning
After each man had pruned his piece of vine, and the wreaths were made and put on heads, or around necks if they were too big, when the rakia had run out, the meat was cooked and the bread was toasted, we all headed inside, finally, to receive some warmth after standing on freezing ground for an hour or so.
Once inside the house we all crowded around the small table to eat the feast that had been prepared, and to drink wine and celebrate together, hoping that this year’s grapes will bring us another batch of delicious homemade wine that we’ll drink with friends and neighbours next year.
And so, we are slowly being introduced to new traditions in our new home country. I’m looking forward to the next one!
What interesting traditions do you follow in your country? Do you have any traditions based around wine growing (or wine drinking)? Please share them with us in the comments section below.
Shared on Natalie the Explorer Weekend Coffee Share.