First Day of School
[Sofia, Bulgaria, Sept 15, 2017]
School begins here in September 15th. It’s the same day for all schools in the whole country, and it’s a big celebration.
First, your parents send you off by spilling a bucket of water outside the door for good luck. I know it sounds strange, but there is a saying that goes with it. The literal translation is something like “may everything go like on water”, which, of course, makes no sense in English. The English equivalent would probably be “break a leg.” I guess it’s a good thing we don’t say “break a leg” in Bulgarian, or we might literally break your leg instead of spilling a bucket of water for good luck. 😉
Then there is the celebration at school. All the kids bring flowers for their homeroom teacher. Everyone congregates in the school yard, there are some songs and some speeches, then the homeroom teachers gather their class in a spot in the yard and provide final instructions to parents and kids. There is no actual school going on the first day of school – this is pretty much it! Everyone then goes off to celebrate somewhere.
I had set an early alarm since we had to leave the house by 8 am, but I woke up even before then. Even though the daytime temperatures here have been in the 80s, in the early morning it was nice and crisp outside. The sun was rising as mom and I hung out in the kitchen eating breakfast and drinking coffee.
Mom had made banitza for me for breakfast. It’s made out of phyllo dough and feta cheese and it’s absolutely delicious. For those of you familiar with spanakopita, it’s very similar to that (but better ;)). When I attempt to make it, I always skimp on the butter to make it healthier and it’s just not the same taste. I feel like the hallmark of every Bulgarian recipe is a cup of oil or a stick of butter. 🙂
I hadn’t stepped foot in a Bulgarian school since 1999, so it was a treat to participate in the first day of school again. My niece Zariya, starting 3rd grade, and my nephew Samuil, starting 2nd grade, were excited to see their friends again. Summer vacation here is 3 months long, and lots of kids still spend it with grandparents out of town, so a lot of them haven’t seen each other since May or June. The low-key celebration at school was a nice way to start the school year.
Afterwards, we gathered at a place nearby for lunch. In typical Bulgarian fashion, we spent 5 hours there and I believe the final bill may have contained 3 coffees and a dozen beers between the four of us (myself, my parents and my sister in law), plus multiple salads and appetizers to share. Going out to a restaurant is always a multi-hour affair here.
After a few hours at home, I spent my evening reminiscing about my own school days with my high school classmates. 8 of us managed to get together this time, and one of our favorite teachers came too. Our classmate Georgi told us crazy tales about his travels in Detroit, Sao Paolo and China, and we also talked about old teachers and memories from those glorious, care-free days. We closed down the restaurant – we were there until after midnight, and then a few of us continued on at Gramophone club, which just so happened to be two blocks from my parents’ home. There is no mandatory last call here, so the party goes on until sunrise. 🙂 I didn’t stay that late, but it was one of my latest nights in recent memory.