and Helena's Day is the most important religious holiday for the
nestinars. It is usually celebrated on 21st, 22nd
and 23rd of May. The whole month is named after it
- "St.Constantine's Month" (or "St. Kostadin's
Month"). The residents of Bulgari and the neighboring villages
still celebrate it according to the old calendar. For the last
three decades the celebrations have been held only for two days
(3rd and 4th of June), though it is known that they have to continue
for three days.As it was mentioned, the holiday is also called
"panagyr". It belongs to the spring-summer cycle - and
is one of the numerous gatherings in Strandzha Mountain.
Strandzha Mountain the fairs ("panagyrs") are usually
organized in summer. The winter patrons - St. Athanasius and St.
Nicholas used to be celebrated, especially in the nestinar villages.
But the most revered saint patrons are: St.St.Constantine and Helena,
St.Elias, St.Marina, St. Pantaleimon/Pantaleon, The Great Virgin
Mary, The Holy Spirit, The Holy Trinity, St.John the Baptist, St.George
and St.Demetrius. The "panagyrs" in Strandzha Mountain
do not bear the names of the villages (e.g 'the gathering/fair of
the village of…), but those of saints (e.g "the panagyr of
Usually the village gathering and the patron saint's day coincide.
They take an important place in the traditional culture of the
Orthodox population in Southeastern Europe. Their religious significance
is being gradually displaced by economic importance, especially
in the big settlements and centers. Most often besides the church
mass, the basic elements are the family offering gatherings, family
reunions, "horo" dances and markets. Common village
offering gatherings are seldom organized. However, in the remote
mountain regions, far from the town centers and thoroughfares,
these holidays have jealously kept their religious importance.
Such an area is the inner part of Strandzha Mountain.
Guests, coming from other villages attend the fairs there. Offering
gatherings are also held, and "horo" dances are also
performed. So far no significant difference in the characteristic
features of fairs can be traced; not only among the Bulgarian,
but also among any other Orthodox nations from Southeastern Europe.
The gatherings and fairs provide the precious opportunity for
an exchange of traditions and habits. That exchange is of crucial
importance for the preservation of special ethnographic areas.
The nestinars perform their rituals one the
days of their revered patron saints. Those are:
St. Nicholas' Day - in
winter (6th Dec.)
Modestus' Day (18th Dec.)
Basil the Great's Day; The Circumcise of Jesus (1st Jan.)
John the Baptist's Day (7th Jan.)
Athanasius' Day (18th , 19th and 20th
Eutimius' Day (20th Jan - the last day of the St. Athanasius'
May - Opening and cleaning of the sacred spring (ayasma/agiasma)
of St.St. Constantine and Helena
May - The same ritual
(panagiros/ panair) on "The Great Ayasma" (agiasma) -
one week before St.St. Constantine and Helena's Day
Day (6th May)
Constantine and Helena's Day (21st, 22nd and
23rd May or 3rd, 4th and 5th
Ascension Day, Spasovden (40 days after Easter)
Trinity (50 days after Easter)
Spirit (Monday after St. Trinity)
Birth of St. John the Baptist, Enyo's Day (24th June)
Marina's Day (17thJuly)
Elias' Day (20th July or 2nd Aug)
Pantaleon's/Pantaleimon's Day (27th July)
Transifuguration Day (6th Aug.)
Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The " Great"
Virgin Mary (15th Aug.)
Demetrius' Day (26th Oct.)
The above calendar, compiled on the basis
of numerous records and accounts, had served for some conclusions
that are already accepted but new ones can be added as well.
As it can be seen the year is halved by the most sacred nestinar
holidays. They are, as follows: the three-day celebration of the
patrons St. St. Constantine and Helena in spring time, and the three-day
winter holiday (coinciding with St.Athanasius' Day and St.Eutimius
Day). It should be mentioned, that in summer, dances on embers are
also performed on some other days, such as: Enyo's Day (the Birth
of St. John the Baptist), St.Marina's Day, St.Elias' Day, St.Pantaleimon's
Day, but the rituals last only a day. In winter the dances are performed
on embers taken from the holy fire in the central nestinar sanctuary
(called "the konak"). In spring and summer the nestinars
dance in the open.
Ritualism takes a central position in the calendar. The rites are
enacted at "The Big Ayasma". As the name suggests, the
place had not been named after a saint patron. It is also the common
venue for all nestinars who live in the interior of Strandzha Mountain.
The most thorough version of the calendar has been registered in
Greece among the immigrant nestinars. They have never forgotten
the tradition, though initially it was kept a secret. Their gathering
in "the konak" on Transfiguration Day (The Appearance
of Jesus Christ before his disciples Peter, Jacob and John) can
be interpreted as a new element, but in general there are no other
fluctuations from the Bulgarian calendar. Another significant fact
should be underscored here, that the nestinars (either Greek or
Bulgarian) do not celebrate Christmas (The Birth of Jesus Christ).
The nestinar calendar can be constructed and defined in one more
way. It divides the year into two according to the positions of
the sun. In winter all rituals, including fire dancing, are performed
during the first days when daytime gradually becomes longer after
the winter solstice - St.Basil the Great's Day (The Circumcise of
Jesus), St.Athanasius' Day, St. Eutimius' Day. In the spring-summer
period, in accordance with the particular religious holidays, the
rites are strictly kept to on the days before and during the summer
solstice until the autumn equinox. During the spring equinox on
the first Monday after Shrovetide (the first Sunday before Lent)
the nestinars perform the ritual of the "mono-mummer' whose
face is covered with ashes of straw. The nestinar "thiasus"
(brotherhood) does not gather in the period from the autumn equinox
to the winter solstice.
The nestinar two-cycle calendar is based on the personification
of the Son, but that is not Jesus Christ. It is "The Svetok"
(St. Constantine). The Son and his Great Goddess Mother are deeply
revered. The nestinar icons bear the names and represent the images
of St. Constantine, St. Helena and St.Constantine's Mother. The
female image has two hypostases - of "The Svetok's" Wife/Sister
and "The Svetok's" Mother.Special attention should be
paid to the so-called Enyo's Day commemorating the birth of St.
John the Baptist; the Great Teacher who initiates one into the sacrament
of baptism. Enyo's Day coincides with the Summer solstice and has
the longest daylight time. The rituals, performed by the population
of Strandzha Mountain, are among the oldest ones. They are initialized
and feminized but they also express reverence for the Sun. It is
believed that the Sun stole the virgin St.Marina who was gifted
with the chaste conception. This is still the day on which curative
herbs are picked up.
Nestinars can not be separated from the other Christians despite
the differences in their worship. They are vehemently pious, consider
themselves Christians and emphasize on that, they are more "Orthodox"
than the others, even more than the clerics. They believe they are
righteous men and their communication with God is the truest one.