Lazaruvané, Лазаруване; Lazarice, лазариците; Lazarka, Lazarica

LAZARAVUNÉ in Bulgaria and other S. Slavic regions

LAZARUVANÉ is the Bulgarian word for the folk customs surrounding St. Lazarus Day, the Saturday before Palm Sunday in the Orthodox calendar; lazarka is a girl who participates in the customs. Lazarice is the Serbian word for the day, a lazarica is the girl who takes part. The customs are observed in other South Slavic cultures; Serbian and North Macedonian, and date back hundreds of years before South Slavs became Christian.

The mind of early farmers was preoccupied with how to get the forces of Nature to co-operate – to produce rain, sun, etc. at the correct times needed for their crops. It was thought that the spirits controlling these forces needed the correct stimulus from powerful people, or they would go astray.

In Spring, the spirits of fertility needed to be resurrected from their winter ‘death’ and encouraged to produce. Women were obviously the most powerful life-givers, and girls of child-bearing age who had not yet given birth were most powerful of all, because they had not diluted their potential.

Thus girls were recruited to visit families in their village & perform ritual dances & songs to ensure good plant growth, fertile livestock, & prosperity.

Christianity was intolerant of such practices unless brought under church control, so peasants blended their Spring ritual with the biblical story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, ‘coming from the earth’.

By the early 1900’s, Lazaruvane had added many layers of meaning, becoming the Bulgarian version of the Debutante’s Ball. It was the girl’s official ‘coming out’, and it was believed she couldn’t get married until she was a Lazarka.

She spent years preparing her costume, which involved personally spinning and weaving the fabric used to make her multi-layered outfit, adding elaborate embroidery, gathering coins and jewelry for adornment, making a headdress of flowers, ribbons, etc. Lazarki costume included some element of bridal finery. Some dressed fully as brides, borrowing pieces when necessary. She also learned numerous songs and dances.

How she presented herself showed everyone how industrious, skilled, and vigorous she was, which mattered to potential suitors and their families much more than her beauty. A new couple’s future depended on her skills, and a skilled Lazarka could attract a better husband.

After Lazaruvane, she and her family could entertain proposals of marriage. She was also allowed to dance in the weekly village Horo. Many regional variations developed, including having some girls dressed as men, and allowing much younger girls to participate.

Girls eagerly anticipated preparing for Lazaruvane; it was a bleak time of year, they’d been cooped up in the house all winter, and Lent had begun, (in which no singing or dancing was allowed except for practicing Lazarki!) They formed themselves into firm groups of 6-8, chose a leader, and began meeting in each others’ homes to practice singing and dancing. An experienced Lazarka was enlisted to teach.

Back then households contained several generations. A song and/or dance was needed to address each category of person i.e. head of the family, mother, sister, baby, bachelor, shepherd, soldier, childless wife, newlyweds, etc. Also there were songs for bees, springs & rivers, fields, travelling. Usually, two girls danced while the rest sang.

Households welcomed a visit from the Lazarki, as it was thought to bring good luck. The lead girl would place a handkerchief on the shoulder of the lady of the house, and it was returned with a small gift – a coin or food.

At the end of the day the girls would have a feast of the days’ gatherings. A ceremony known as kumičiné may be performed whereby wreaths are thrown in a stream. The first girl’s wreath to drift to a pre-arranged spot will be the first to marry. A final dance may be performed before a gathering of married women and single men, who then choose future brides.

Lazaruvane nearly vanished from village life by the Second World War. Now it is seen mostly in folklore festivals, ‘Folklore Villages’, and re-enactments by local performing groups.

SOURCES:

  • Bulgarian Folk Customs, by Mercia MacDermott
  • The Dancing Goddesses, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Debelt village / Zagortsi village / Sredets municipality, Bulgaria, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5fQNvZf8xk
Caption (Google translated): Chitalishte s. Pchelnik. Custom “Lazarus”. With the participation of the amateurs of the National Chitalishte “Vasil Levski-1924” in the village of Pchelnik with artistic director Krassimira Dragneva. Directed by Nadia Borisova. Operators – Milko and Naum Maleshkovi. 04.2013 The custom was filmed in the summer house of the Kamelia and Ivan Ivanovi family in the village of Pchelnik.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1_lE7vNPi0
Caption (Google translated): Traditionally, on St. Lazarus’ Day, green willow branches are torn off and consecrated in the church the next day – Palm Sunday, also called Vrabnitsa. It is believed that the consecrated willow twigs protect the whole family and are therefore kept until next spring. Usually on Palm Sunday the last Lazarus custom is performed – “kumicheneto”. In the morning, the lazars head to the river, where they drop their wreaths made of willow twigs at the same time. The girl whose wreath came out on top is chosen as a godmother and it is believed that she will be the first to marry during the year. In some areas, the girls prepare a special ritual bread – “doll”, with a bite of which “kumichat”. After the ritual, the kumitsa leads the maiden dance to her house, where everyone feasts on the gifts of the lazarus. The custom is accompanied by ritual songs of a love nature. 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll2kKBqWZtc
Etar open-air ethnographic village, Gabrovo, Bulgariaa
Caption: On Lazarus’ Saturday, the villagers would light fires against vermin and snakes, pick flowers and grass, immerse them in the water they drank or bathe in. They would decorate themselves and their habitats with various greenery. On this day, a ritual procession was formed – lazarice. The procession of lazars consisted mainly of six unmarried girls (sometimes more): two had the role of Lazarus, male and female. They sang various songs about fertility, they would pay attention if there is a pregnant woman in the family, a girl for marriage or a young man for marriage, small children and the like, so they would sing songs for health, happiness, fertility …students of the 4th grade of the elementary school “Ljupče Španac”, Bela Palanka, Serbia, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3y7iIOroqVg
Bela Palanka (in red)
Caption (Google translated): Lazarice – a wonderful custom in Sirinić parish in Serbian Shar Mountain, a day on Lazarus’ Saturday – Vrbica, when girls dressed in traditional costumes visit the village, enter every home, sing lazaric songs and the people give them gifts Their mothers are with them. So much love, joy, beauty and all the good in one place. Beautiful children and people of the village of Drajkovce on the Sharr Mountains, municipality of Strpce, Kosovo and Metohija, a village that is a border Serbian village near Siptar villages. The pictures show the village itself as well as the custom. May the Lord keep them. Lazar’s Saturday, April 23, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5fQNvZf8xk
Štrpce municipality (red) in Kosovo.
2013. Location unknown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzxIC4ir7yo
Struga region, North Macedonia, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZg1J_lYJ8A
Reconstruction of female ritual processions from the ethnic area of ​​Dolni Polog, North Macedonia, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxffAOUknTE
Dolni Polog (blue dot)

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