SOFIA (Reuters Life!) - Lovers can officially ignore Valentine's Day in Bulgaria because the day is given over to the celebration of wine and St. Trifon The Pruner.
Honoring the patron saint of vine growers is the right way to mark February 14, many in the Balkan country say, although Valentine's Day popularity is quickly growing among the young.
The wine rituals have their roots in the devotion to the ancient Greek god of Dionysus and the Thracians who once inhabited the territory of modern Bulgaria and were known for their winemaking skills.
Wine makers across Bulgaria salute St. Trifon with the annual trimming of the grape vines, which symbolizes the end of winter. The tradition requires women to bake bread and roast hens in preparation for a post-pruning feast.
In every town, the man deemed to have grown the most grapes that year is crowned King, put on a horse-cart, driven from house to house and ordered to get drunk with his friends in order to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming year.
St. Trifon lived in the third century AD and is believed to have had the divine power to heal any sickness. He was tortured to death and beheaded for his Christian faith.
The Orthodox Church in largely Christian Bulgaria celebrates St. Trifon on February 1 according to the new religious calendar but most people prefer to do it on February 14 according to the old calendar, not least as an alternative to Valentine's Day.
"Valentine's Day is nonsense. We had never heard about it until some 15 years ago. I'll stick with St. Trifon," said Sofia resident Georgi Blagoev, 34.
Internet blogs and forums are full of heated debates about which holiday Bulgarians should celebrate but there are plenty who say they would celebrate both.
"Why not celebrate the day of love with a glass of wine. We will get drunk anyway," quipped 24-year-old Mira Nikolova.
(Reporting by Anna Mudeva, editing by Paul Casciato)