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Valentines Day or the Festival of Wine, Trifon Zarezan and Dionysus?

Updated: Jun 6, 2022



By Simona Yovcheva, published on 14/02/2022

 


Most of the world celebrates love and romance on the 14th of February. However, in Bulgaria, a small country in the southeastern Balkans, people have been celebrating wine makers, grapevine growers and St. Trifon the pruner for centuries on this day. The roots of this festival can be traced back to the great Thracian culture as early as the 5th century BC. Read on to learn more about wine rituals, wine philosophy, ecstatic living, ancient gods and the power of the grapevine combined with wild yeast.


14th of February - the day of Wine, Trifon Zarezan.

I remember becoming aware of Valentine’s Day about 15 years ago when I was still a teenager. The over-commercialised festival entered into the consciousness of Bulgarians seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly there were lot’s of heart-shaped chocolates, pink and red coloured gifts & cards in shops, restaurants were promoting dinners for couples and there was a whole lot of talk about love and couples on the media. Of course Bulgarians were aware of the existence of the Day of Love before the foreign tradition entered the culture through relentless marketing. My fellow Bulgarians back then couldn’t care less about some foreign festival though. They were not interested in celebrating Valentines Day because another native festival, rooted in the land and the ancient history of the land takes place on 14th of February. Although Valentine’s Day has gained popularity the past few years amongst the youth in Bulgaria, the ancient festival of Wine and Vine hasn’t been forgotten and it still holds importance in peoples‘ consciousness on this date. Despite the change of the religious calendar from Julian to Gregorian in 1968 which moved the date of St. Trifon Zarezan from 14th to 1st of February most Bulgarians still honour the patron of vine growers and wine on 14th of February.


Who is Trifon Zarezan and What is his Connection to Wine and Grape Vines?

Saint Trifon (also Saint Tryphon or Trypho) was a third-century Christian martyr who lived in the Roman Empire, in present-day Turkey, and was famed as an animal healer. However, under the persecutions of the pagan emperor Decius, Trifon was beheaded in the year AD 250 for his Christian beliefs, martyring him in the process, and enshrining his legend in the church. How and when he became connected to wine is unclear. I have a feeling though that he is one of the Saints and holy figures who were adopted by animist cultures (which ancient Bulgarians were before 9th century) during Christianisation in order to continue celebrating their animist festivals. This will become clearer as we dive deeper into the ancient roots of wine festivals in the Balkans.


There is a funny legend which Bulgarians have come up with in order to link the Saint to vines.

The story goes that St. Trifon was diligently working on his vineyard, pruning his vines when a gorgeous woman passed by. He became enchanted by her beauty and couldn't take his gaze off her, which resulted in a moment of total distraction from what he was doing with the scissors in his hands and the next thing he knew was that part of his nose was clipped off. This accident is where his last name comes from too. Zarezan - the pruner or the pruned.




Wine Rituals and Blessings

The wine rituals and vine blessings on the 14th of February vary depending on the region in Bulgaria.

Most include blessing the vineyards with wine and prayer by a priest or by the grapevine growers, followed by pruning the vines and thus symbolically marking the beginning of the new vine growing season. The blessing ritual is usually followed by a feast, the consumption of copious amounts of wine, songs and dancing.

In some regions the tradition involves giving the title of a ‘King’ to the vine grower with the most abundant harvest from the previous year. He/she would be mounted on a horse or donkey and made to visit the people in the community, blessing them with abundance and fertility. In exchange for the blessings each household that is visited by this ‘Grape Vine King’ would offer wine - and a lot of it! It is considered that the more wine is being offered the more abundance is being attracted into the household. Also it is considered bad manners and bad luck not to drink the wine offered. So you can imagine the state of the ‘King’ by the end of the blessing procession - blissfully intoxicated, may be even unconscious.





Ancient Roots of the festival

The pagan roots of this festival can be traced back to the Thracian festivals of the God of Wine, grape vines, ecstasy, madness, wildness and fertility. His name was first Zagreus, later to become Dionysus. The same deity can be found in Greek mythology and later in Roman mythology as Bacchus. Academics argue about the origin of Dionysus - some believe that the Greeks adopted the deity from Thracian cults and some argue that some form of Dionysian cults already existed in Greece predating the Thracian influence on the culture. It is pretty clear though that Romans adopted Dionysus from the Greeks and gave him the name Bacchus. Zagreus, Dionysus, Bacchus, Liber (in Italy) ant St. Trifon Zarezan are virtually the same entity expressing itself through different cultures, lands, languages and ages. Ancient Thrace was one of the oldest wine making cultures which populated the Balkans as early as the 5th century BC and left a wealth of cultural heritage, myths, festivals and Gods for the later cultures to adopt:


In the area between the Balkans and Aegean Sea, the cult of Dionysus persisted for many years… The traces of its influence can be found even today in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Greece and Italy, or countries where Thracian culture was spread the most intensely.

The highlight of this list is, of course, Bulgaria. Here people still worship Zagreus, the Thracian god of wine. Here he was associated only with winemaking, and not fertility, as he used to be before when each god had more than one «function.» According to the myths, the Earth devoured Zagreus, but Zeus saved his heart and gave him a second life, this time calling him Dionysus.” (1)



If we look beyond the Godly/Holy Archetypes for a second and focus on the wine itself (and its influence on the human), we can easily see what is truly being celebrated. The powerful vegetal spirits (in this case - the grape vine and wild yeast combined) is what has enchanted the human consciousness. Wine, this godly substance, gets us intoxicated, ecstatic, wild, unpredictable, liberated, mad, uncontrollable. It puts us into a state of consciousness which is beyond the rational. It takes away our inhibitions. No wonder the ancient wine cultures, which had such a deep relationship with the plant - Grape - and its fermented beverage - Wine - would be in awe and a bit of fear of its power, of this Vegetal God which stirs human’s passions and turns people into ecstatic, mad wanderers if not approached with reverence and moderation. Aware of the dark side of wine, some of our ancient predecessors used it mindfully as a way to enter into an ecstatic way of being and connect directly to spirit.


“The cult of Orpheus demanded certain conditions for wine drinking. The Thracians knew: if you drink wine at a certain rhythm, it will create its own melody. And in this case, wine drinking becomes an ecstatic process. One has to know how to play with wine, and only then can one fully enjoy it…

The followers of Orphism believed that the correct ecstasy allowed them to avoid the dual nature of the soul and eliminate the dark half of the spirit, filling their lives with the melody of harmony.” (2)



The day of wine, vines and the patron of grape vines (regardless of his name) have survived

throughout the ages, through different cultures and its spirit is still very much alive in Bulgaria on the 14th of February. Christianisation, 8 centuries of Ottoman Empire, change of religious calendar and capitalistic promotion of other festivals haven't deterred Bulgarians' determination to honour the Vegetal God of Vine and Wine. Although the festival shares its date with Valentines Day, which provoked initially in many Bulgarians resistance towards embracing the 'day of love', I think this merging of traditions is a blessing and an opportunity to revive a forgotten aspect of the ancient wine festivals. This missing aspect is fertility and love which Valentines Day brings to the energetics of the day.


So here is to long lasting love, good wine, ecstasy, passionate sex and good health. Cheers my friends! Happy Valentines Day and Trifon Zarezan Day!




References:

  1. Cherne O. Ancient Thrace, The Motherland of Wine Culture: Accessed on: https://www.codedevino.com/world-of-wine/the-way-of-wine/ancient-thrace-the-motherland-of-wine-culture

  2. Cherne O. Ancient Thrace, The Motherland of Wine Culture: Accessed on: https://www.codedevino.com/world-of-wine/the-way-of-wine/ancient-thrace-the-motherland-of-wine-culture


Bibliography:

  1. Angelova M. Trifon Zarezan: Bulgaria's Second Valentines Day: Culture Trip; 2020. Accessed on: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/bulgaria/articles/trifon-zarezan-bulgarias-second-valentines-day/

  2. Bulgaria Marks the Wine and Vine Day - Trifon Zarezan: 2021. Accessed on: https://winet.wine/bulgaria-marks-the-wine-and-vine-day-trifon-zarezan/

  3. Cherne O. Ancient Thrace, The Motherland of Wine Culture: Accessed on: https://www.codedevino.com/world-of-wine/the-way-of-wine/ancient-thrace-the-motherland-of-wine-culture

  4. Otto F. W. Dionysus: Myth and Cult: 1995

  5. Reuters Life. Valentine's? Surely it's Trifon The Pruner day. Accessed on: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-valentines-idUSL1432831220080214

  6. Wikipedia. History of Bulgaria. Accessed on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bulgaria


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