Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in the United States, and one of my favorites.  America is a secular nation.  We have no national religion.  While this is overwhelmingly a good thing, the one disadvantage of being from a secular nation is the lack of a commonly celebrated day for anything other than nationalistic pride.

In contrast, the country where I currently live, Bulgaria, does have national and religious holidays.  For example, Alphabet Day is a day of great pride when Bulgarians celebrate the Greek missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius who invented the Cyrillic alphabet as a means of bringing the Bible to the people who lived in what is now Bulgaria.  The Cyrillic alphabet has since spread across the world through Ukraine, Russia, and as far as Mongolia.  The Alphabet is a big source of national and spiritual pride for Bulgarians.

Yet America has no such holiday because, unlike Bulgaria where there is an overwhelming Orthodox majority, the United States is made up of countless spiritual and religious beliefs.  This is why I love Thanksgiving so much.  It is the closest thing America has to a universally celebrated spiritual holiday.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in Plymouth by two groups of people.  There were the Pilgrims who were Puritan Christians.  They arrived in Plymouth on December 16, 1620, and they did not fare very well.  During the first months 2 or 3 of them would die every day, and only 52 of the original 102 passengers on their ship, the Mayflower, survived their first year in America.

That number would probably have been much lower had it not been for the Wampanoag people who lived in the area.  After a few months living in Plymouth, the Wampanoag and Pilgrims signed a treaty of mutual protection and entered into a friendship.  One Wampanoag in particular, Squanto, took it upon himself to help the Pilgrims learn how to work the land.  In November of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag feasted together as friends in thankfulness.

Two peoples, with different religious and cultural convictions came together in gratitude.  The Pilgrims would have been thankful to God, while the Wampanoag as animists would likely have been thankful to Mother Earth.  Yet they celebrated together in peace and with gratitude.

Centuries later, the tradition continues.  Ethnic background, and religion do not matter.  We are all Americans.  We might thank different spiritual forces (or none at all if we are atheists), but we are all thankful.

This is why I love America.  We share different beliefs and hold different values, but at the end of the day we all sit down together in gratitude.  We are all Americans.  E pluribus unum.  Out of many, one.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Faces on Money--20 Leva

The 20 Leva bill is quite possibly the most common bank note in Bulgaria.  If you go to an ATM to get some cash, you will probably receive these blue notes from the machine.  On the front of the 20 Leva note, you will find a picture of Stefan Stambolov.

As I did a bit of research on Stambolov, it seemed fitting that such a strong willed and controversial politician should end up on the front of the 20 denomination note.  His character made me think a bit about Andrew Jackson who is on the front of the US 20 dollar bill.  Just as America’s first Democratic president is often considered to have been too strong in many of his political decisions (most notably in his cruel treatment of the Cherokee people), so Stambolov is considered by some to be what Encyclopedia Britannica called a “despotic prime minister.”

However, while Jackson’s motives seem to be racial in nature, Stambolov’s motives could legitimately be seen as nationalistic.  Though perhaps a rough leader, it is hard to argue that he was anything but pro-Bulgarian.

Stambolov was born in the city of Turnovo, and very early on he joined the underground movement against the oppressive Ottoman government.  After Bulgaria gained independence in 1878, he seemed to have growing concerns that Russia was attempting to turn Bulgaria into a Czarist protectorate.

Bulgaria had just spent 500 years under the thumb of a mighty empire.  Stambolov did not want to see it happen again.  Not surprisingly, his political stance was unpopular with Russia, yet Stambolov’s will was strong, and Bulgaria would remain independent under King Ferdinand who Stambolov was instrumental in electing to the throne.

Stambolov served as prime minister for nearly 6 years.  During this time Stambolov took some somewhat extreme measures to keep the pro-Russian forces in Bulgaria at bay as well as keep King Ferdinand in check.

Eventually he was pushed out of office.  Yet despite no longer being in power, his enemies remained.  On July 15, 1895 Stambolov was involved brutal shootout with assassins in Sofia that eventually ended with Stamolov being stabbed in the head with a sword.  He succumbed to his injuries on July 18th.

A bust of Stambolov with a crack in his head stands in a park in downtown Sofia.  He was a strong willed man at a key time in Bulgarian history.  Like most strong leaders, he had many enemies.  Eventually the enemies succeeded in defeating him, but they did not succeed in stripping Bulgaria of her newly gained independence.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Faces on Money--10 Leva

On the front of the ten Leva bill, we find a picture of Peter Beron.  Peter was a Bulgarian scientist, and from what I have read about him, he was brilliant.

He was born in (or around) 1799 in the town of Kotel, Bulgaria.

Peter studied in Germany and wrote volumes in German, French, English, and Greek.  For those of you keeping score at home, that means he knew at least 5 languages well enough to write scientific papers in them.  Beron obviously had a sharp mind.

His principle work was the seven volume Panepisteme.  This massive work of over 5000 pages was Beron’s attempt to create a universal scientific system that would clarify, without contradictions, everything from origin, nature, laws of movement, and the development of the micro and macro cosmos.

He wrote and delivered a paper in Greece titled “The reasons for and consequences of the world-wide flood.”  He also wrote papers on the earth’s magnetism.

Beron’s scientific knowledge appeared to be vast and widespread.  He also was heavily involved in the world of philosophy, and is considered one of the great Bulgarian minds on the subject.

He was one of the most important personalities of the Bulgarian enlightenment of the 19th century.

He died on the 21st of March 1871, yet Bulgarians remember him today and have given him a place of honor on the 10 Leva note.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Faces on Money--5 Leva

Ivan Milev pictured on the Bulgarian 5 Leva note

The Bulgarian 5 Leva note has a picture of Ivan Milev. He was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Kazanlak, Bulgaria in the Valley of the Roses.  He lived a short life even for the time.  He died 22 days before his 30th birthday.  Yet he was gifted artist, and his art is a significant part of Bulgarian culture today.

In researching this article, I looked at a several of his paintings.  They have a distinct Bulgarian feel to them.  They remind me of works of art I have seen in other parts of the country.

This picture in specific caught my attention.  In English its title is “Our Mothers are Always Dressed in Black.”  It was painted in 1926, and considering the times, it would not be surprising that many mothers would have been dressed in black.

Black is the traditional color of mourning.  It is a fading tradition, but you still see the occasional older widow walking around wearing all black.  It makes sense that in the 20’s there would have been a lot of mourning women.  This was shortly after World War I, which began not too far from here on the Balkan Peninsula.  There would have been many dead sons and fathers.  Thus, many mothers during Ivan’s time that would have worn nothing but black.  It is a picture of sorrow and loss that truly a picture that speaks 1000 words.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Faces on Money--2 Leva

Bulgarian 2 Leva bills (worth about $1.20 at today’s rate) are in the process of gradually being replaced by the 2 Leva coin, but both are still very common in Bulgaria.  Both contain a picture of Paisii Hilendarski.  Hilendarski was born in 1722, and is considered the father of the Bulgarian renaissance.

The Bulgarian 2 Leva coin

My western readers might be a bit confused at this point.  We think of the renaissance as occurring between the 14th and 17th centuries, so how could a Bulgarian from the 18th century not only be considered a renaissance area man, but the father of the renaissance?  To understand this we have to look farther back in Bulgarian history.

The Bulgarian 2 Leva Bill

In the 1300’s, when the renaissance was in its infancy in Western Europe, the Ottoman Empire began expanding from what is now modern day Turkey into Europe.  Bulgaria stood in its way.  Over the course of several decades Bulgaria was conquered and absorbed by the Ottomans.

As most of Europe emerged from the Middle Ages and grew in knowledge and culture, Bulgaria was enslaved.  They became servants of the Ottoman sultans.  Their dark ages were just beginning.

Fast-forward hundreds of years and Paisii Hilendarski came on the scene.  He spent much of his early adult life in the Hilendar Monastery.  Here he grew in education and in freedom of thought.

He traveled around Bulgaria seeking to raise funds for the monastery, and found that most of his fellow Bulgarians were living in desperate conditions and were apathetic toward their situation.  They had been beat down and come to accept their lives of servitude.  Paisii decided to reignite the Bulgarian spirit by writing a history book.  It took a long time for him to research Bulgarian history as the centuries of Ottoman rule had damaged or destroyed much historical evidence, but after years of toil he finally finished his work.  During his research he also found evidence and documentation about the life of Ivan of Rilla (see the previous post on the 1 Leva note to find out more about him).

His work awakened the Bulgarian spirit.  It would still be over 100 years before Bulgaria would regain freedom again, but the seed had been sown.  Knowledge and history served to stir up a national spirit that would eventually lead to freedom and the rise of the new Bulgarian nation.