On the first day of the New Year the Bulgarian Orthodox Church commemorates Saint Vassiliy the Great, who lived around 330-379.

Being a bishop in the Caesar’s territory of Capadocia (today’s Asia Minor), he fought against the movements denying Jesus Christ’s divine origin, and he succeeded in imposing the principles of the Orthodox Christianity to a large part of the Roman Empire territories.

It was him who popularized the ideas of “active forgiveness” and “doing good deeds as an implementation of Christ’s concept of love and forgiveness”. He used to be called “the Great” long before his death.

He was canonized as a saint, and the day of his death – January 1st – has been celebrated each year ever since.

People named Vassil, Vesselin, etc. mark their name day on January 1.

In many parts of the country the celebrations include a feast of meals prepared with chicken and other meat, walnuts, boiled grain, dried fruit, and the traditional Bulgarian banitsa, a round, crispy, layered pastry, usually filled with cheese and made from phyllo dough.

On this day Bulgarians put inside each slice of the banitsa small cornel tree branches with different number of buds on them, as a lucky sign for the people sharing the meal. The branches are said to bring good fortune, health, success or happy occasions.

In some parts of the country, young women save the first slice of the banitsa and put it under their pillow, because of the belief that they would see their future husband in their dreams.

Groups of people, usually including children and young men go from door to door with especially decorated cornel three branches for the traditional “survakane.” They use the branches to tap the owners of the house on the back, along with wishes for good luck, health and wealth. The hosts give them threats, small gifts or small amounts of money in exchange for the good wishes.