This is a sample from one of the “Traditions” chapters that comprise Part II of the book.
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Late in the autumn comes Dimítrovden (October 26), which for the villagers marks the real end of summer. “Well, Dimítrovden—that means the summer is over, winter’s on the way already. Dimítrovden used to be on the 8th of November. (1) When Dimítrovden comes, all the people who are working as servants for rich folk—you remember I told you how people who had a lot of land would hire poorer people to come and work for them. For a year, for half a year, whatever they decided. Dimítrovden was the end of the summer term. At that time either a person would stop working for his master, or the master would give him a raise, if he wanted to keep him on. A raise, or some other change, to persuade him to stay on. If not, he would leave and the master would get somebody else.”
“So people worked from Dimítrovden to Dimítrovden?” I asked.
“From Dimítrovden to Gérgjovden. Gérgjovden was part of that system too. People entered or left service on those two days. We used to call those people rátaj, hired hands. Some would start work, others would finish—it all depended on the agreement they had made.”
“And could a servant keep on working for the same people?”
“Oh yes, of course. If he got along with the master. Some people stayed on for years and years with the same family—ten years, twelve years. They might even get married from there, the master would put on the wedding for them. They’d have children, and the man would still be a servant. Things like that used to happen.

“Now, the day after Dimítrovden was Pogánšljak (‘Mice Day’). (2) That’s what we called it, Pogánšljak. You wouldn’t do any work, because if you did the mice would eat up your clothes. You’d have mice scampering around the house if you did any work with your hands, any knitting, or washing, or anything. Mama (my mother-in-law) would say, ‘Don’t do any work today. Don’t go picking up your needle to sew anything’—because, you know, I had a lot of children, there was always something to sew, something to mend . . . . ‘Don’t do any mending today! Tomorrow some darned mouse will come nosing in here and eat up the children’s socks!’ And she would say the word. (3) It would just slip out. And the children, they would try and try to trick her into saying it again—‘What did you say, Mama, what did you say?’ They’d try to drag it out of her once more. ‘Oh,’ she would say, ‘it’s your clothes they’ll eat up! They won’t bother with mine. I’m an old lady, if they want to eat my clothes, let them go ahead and do it. It’s yours they’ll go after, just you wait and see!’
“So we didn’t work that day. On those days we didn’t do any work at all, and we didn’t go into the barrels of food either. If you wanted anything, you would get it out the day before and cover it up and set it aside somewhere safe. You wouldn’t go into the barrels then, because if you did some little mouse would get into them. Because that has happened, there have been real cases where that’s happened to people. I’ve heard people say, ‘Ooh, you know what happened to us? A mouse got into our pickled vegetables, or the sour-water, or whatever.’ That’s really terrible—then you have to throw the whole thing out. And if you’ve already eaten some of it before you noticed, that’s really the last straw.

“Then after Dimítrovden is over, and Pogánšljak, then comes Vúchljak. That’s the wolves’ holiday, ‘Wolves’ Day’. On that day you don’t chop any wood, so the wolves don’t come around—you know, they can get into your yard and carry off sheep or goats or something. The children chop and chop the night before—they make a great big pile! And then they sink the axe into the chopping block. And the next day you won’t touch it, you won’t do any chopping. That’s what happens on that holiday.”

1. The calendar was changed in Bulgaria twice in Línka’s lifetime: first in 1916 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, and later in 1969 when changes were made in the church calendar. Here Línka remembers the date of the holiday as it was in her childhood, but above I gave the date according to the current calendar, as I have done throughout the book.

2. The local word for "mouse" is pogánets.

3. It was forbidden to use the word “mouse” in ordinary speech on that day, just as one did not say “snake” or “lizard” on Blágovets.

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