What you need to know about the Day of the Bulgarian Culture and Literacy on 24 May
A short history of the Cyrillic script
24 May is a national holiday in Bulgaria: the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavonic Alphabet (in Bulgarian, Ден на българската култура и просвета и славянската писменост).
The key is, of course, the Bulgarian Cyrillic script. It may look complicated to foreigners, but one can learn it relatively fast, with a little time and interest. After all, a third of the letters match those of the Latin alphabet, and the rest are not exactly Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The creation of the Cyrillic script was a vital event for Bulgaria because if a nation has no alphabet, there is no way to transmit the culture in a written form, and the culture cannot continue. Therefore, the creation of the Cyrillic script was a huge step forward for Bulgaria.
A short history of the Cyrillic script
In the 9th century, there were two missionary brothers, citizens of the Byzantine empire, born in Thessaloniki, named Cyril and Methodius (Kyril and Metodii in Bulgarian). Cyril was a great philologist, and both he and Methodius had prior experience in diplomatic missions and missionary work in pagan lands.
Prince Rastislav I of Moravia commissioned both brothers to evangelize his territory in the Slavic language. In order to carry out their mission, Cyril and Methodius created the Glagolitic alphabet. Thus they were able to translate the Bible into Old Slavic, and they could start their missionary journeys, first in Great Moravia and later in the rest of the Slavic countries.
"Our nation is baptized, but it still lacks teachers. We do not understand Greek or Latin [...] We do not understand the written characters or their meaning; send us teachers to teach us the words of the Scriptures and their meaning."- Rastislav I, Prince of Moravia, 862AD.
But why did they have to create a new alphabet and not use, for example, Greek or Latin? Quite simply, because many sounds in Slavic languages did not have a corresponding letter in those alphabets.
To create the new alphabet, they used the dialect of Bulgarian they knew as the base, which was the one spoken by the Bulgarian diaspora who lived in the brothers' hometown of Thessaloniki.
Later, a disciple of the brothers named Kliment Ohridski, Saint Clement of Ohrid, adapted the Glagolitic alphabet to become what is now known as the Cyrillic script.
Saint Clement of Ohrid could not have done it without the support of King Boris I, a newly baptized Christian, who helped him as much as he could. Among other things, he developed a state policy for the development of the Slavic alphabet, literature, and culture, which led the way for Bulgarian to become a literary language.
The Catholic Church has revered Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius since 1980 as co-patrons of Europe. To this day, Kyril is still a relatively common Bulgarian name in the country.
The National Library of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Sofia is named after them, as are many schools and institutions across the country. The University of Sofia, the oldest and most prestigious educational institution in Bulgaria, is named after Saint Clement of Ohrid.
24 May, a national holiday in Bulgaria
Slavic Alphabet and Bulgarian Culture and Education Day are celebrated with many cultural and academic events across the country. Of course, this day is also celebrated in style by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church with special liturgical services, since Cyril and Methodius are two of the most venerated saints in this country.
Here is the hymn of Cyril and Methodius and Bulgarian Education, with lyrics by Stoyán Mihailovski and music by the famous composer Panayot Pípkov, sung by a children's choir.
Cyrillic script is one of the most significant contributions Bulgaria has made to the world.