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Religious Observances in January: Old Midwife’s Day

What seems like a simple way to thank the women who assist in bringing healthy babies into the world actually has a deeper story to tell. Old Midwife’s Day is typically observed on January 8 by a variety of cultures, including the Bulgarians. In this article, you will also learn about a holiday that pays homage to the donkey.

Granny’s Day (Old Midwife’s Day or Babin Den) , January 8

Legend has it that an the Egyptian king ordered the old women that served as maternity nurses to kill all of the newborn Jewish boys. However, the old women refused because they were afraid of what God would do. It is said that because of this, God gifted the old women with goodness and happiness. Old midwives are celebrated with a feast that takes place on Old Midwives’ Day. This day is also dedicated to the young women that give birth and for the good health of the babies.

There are three typical components to the feast. First, the bathing of small children takes place, which is generally completed by an old woman. Numerous blessings follow. The second rite is the symbolic spreading of honey and butter over the children. Lastly, a feast takes place at one of the old midwife’s house. All of the rites are performed in hopes of good health for the child.

Young women that have been visited by the old midwife during the past year can participate. To the feast, they bring bread, cheese pastry, roasted chicken and wine. The mothers assist in washing the hands of the old woman. A shirt, apron, head-cloth and socks are given as gifts. The end of the holiday is marked with a ritual called “vlechugane” , bathing of the old lady.

The old midwife is taken to the river (or a well), where the housewives perform a ceremonial bathing. Along the way, the women tease the men they pass along the way, as they are not allowed to participate in the holiday. Songs are sung along with sensual dancing.  After the bathing of the old woman, she is carried back to her home. Bulgarians traditionally celebrate Old Midwife’s Day on January 8, while some people observe January 21 as the Day of Childbirth Assistance.

Feast of the Ass , January 14

During medieval times, the Feast of the Ass was a Christian feast held on January 14, which celebrated what was known as the Flight into Egypt. The flight into Egypt refers to the Biblical event as told in the Gospel of Matthew, where Joseph flees to Egypt with his wife Mary and infant son Jesus upon learning that King Herod has plans to kill the infants of the region. The holiday was mostly observed in France, which had a connection to the Feast of Fools that highlights stories in the Bible that involved the donkey, such as the donkey bearing the Holy Family into Egypt after the birth of Jesus.

One of the things that took place during the feast was a girl with child would be led through town to the church on a donkey. The donkey would be positioned beside the altar during the sermon, while the congregation would respond to the priest in the same manner as a donkey. During the second half of the 15th century, the feast was no longer celebrated , including the Feast of the Fools.