Lonely Planet Writer

Bulgaria celebrates Cyrillic Alphabet Day and all things Slavonic

Bulgaria (България in Cyrillic) celebrates all things Slavonic on 24 May, officially called the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavonic Alphabet. It is also known as the Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day, in honour of the two brothers who established the early form of the Slavonic alphabet back in the 9th century.

Parade of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Alphabet, on May 24, 2016, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Parade of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Alphabet, on May 24, 2016, in Sofia, Bulgaria. Image by Getty

This important cultural event has been celebrated in Bulgaria since the 19th century. It was first marked in the historic city of Plovdiv, and from 1859 it’s been celebrated in the capital Sofia. This year, there is a procession through the streets of Sofia, from the Archaeological Museum to the National Library which is flanked by an imposing statue of Cyril and Methodius. The library is hosting an exhibition marking the 1100th anniversary of the death of Saint Clement of Ohrid, one of Cyril and Methodius’ disciples. Other events include a special service at the striking Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, ceremonies at the Sofia University, and the Spring Book Fair at the huge National Palace of Culture.

Parade of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Alphabet, on May 24, 2016, in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo by Hristo Vladev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Parade of the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Alphabet, on May 24, 2016, in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo by Hristo Vladev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Bulgarian language was the first Slavic language to have a written form, developed during the 9th century in the First Bulgarian Empire. Saints Cyril and Methodius were missionaries from Byzantium (born in Thessaloniki ), entrusted by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III to evangelise the Slavs. They translated the Bible into Old Church Slavonic and created the Glagolitic alphabet, which later served as the basis of the Cyrillic alphabet developed by their disciple Saint Clement of Ohrid.

Several Slavic nations use the Cyrillic alphabet, including Russia, Ukraine, Serbia and Macedonia. On joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria also had the honour of making the Cyrillic alphabet  the EU’s third official writing system. Therefore the European Parliament in Brussels will host an exhibition dedicated to the Cyrillic alphabet and a classical music concert honouring Saints Cyril and Methodius.