Bulgaria is a Balkan country with cultural influences from the West and East and a millennial history which characterizes its unique and authentic customs and traditions.
Like the rest of Europe, Bulgaria celebrates Easter and Christmas as part of its main holidays with associated customs like the Easter eggs and Christmas tree.
Besides Christmas and Easter, Bulgaria has several distinctive sets of authentic customs and traditions.
Bulgaria is exceptionally rich in culture and tradition, from a special day to beg for forgiveness and Name days to some confusing independence and liberation celebration.
However, some Bulgarian traditions are bizarre and weird, like the dancing barefoot on burning embers ritual or how Bulgarians shake their head to say no or yes.
1. Baba Marta
In Bulgarian folklore, every first March is seen as the beginning of spring.
Bulgarians imagine that March is a mythical old grumpy lady Baba Marta, meaning Granny March, and associates it with the red-and-white yarn adornment known as Martenitsa.
So on this day, Bulgarians gift their friends a Martenitsa, congratulating them for witnessing the beginning of spring.
When you see a blossoming tree, you’re meant to tie the Martenitsa to it.
If you’re visiting Bulgaria around this period, be prepared to witness this colorful sight as you’ll find various vendors selling red and white yarn and everyone putting on one.
2. Cheverme on St. George Day
As the most favorite meal of the summer season, Cheverme is a tradition gotten from the Rhodopes mountains, south of Bulgaria.
Traditionally, Cheverme is an integral part of St. George Day’s special lunch and dinner, where lambs are killed in the patron saint of the Bulgarian Army’s name and eaten in the sheepfold, near the village, or churchyard alongside the ritual bread baked by skilled village women.
Cheverme is a lamb cooked slowly for over ten hours or an entire day on a spit over a fire.
People take turns to mind the grill with lots of drinking and music while waiting for the lamb to be cooked properly.
This fantastic food is present in many folklore festivals in Bulgaria.
However, with the new grill in the market, preparing Cheverme or other latest bbq recipe is more effortless.
Ensure to get a good grill that wouldn’t be quite heavy to move around so you can effortlessly move it to any part of the house for use.
3. Jordan’s Day on Epiphany
Every sixth of January, Christian Bulgarians mark the Baptism of Jesus and Epiphany, which they termed Yordanovden or Jordan’s Day, with a tradition that involves icy winter waters.
In towns like Kalofer, their Jordan Day tradition involves the icy round dance with men dancing to traditional Bulgarian tunes in freezing water.
Another Jordan Day tradition involves a priest throwing a cross into a lake or river, and willing participants (men) jump after the cross in a competition to retrieve it.
Bulgarians believe that anyone who catches the cross will be healthy and happy throughout the year.
This ancient ritual to drive away evil spirits is performed every Cheesefree Sunday or around New Year’s Eve before Lent.
Thanks to their animal pelt-made customs, enormous bells on their belt, and creepy masks, the Bulgarian Kukeri are pretty unmistakable.
During the Surva masquerade festival every late January or early February, you can see varieties of costumes, especially in Pernik.
A mystical ritual has continued to date in a few isolated villages in Strandzha Mountains close to the Turkish border.
On the night of St. Helen and Constantine’s Day, villagers come together to dance barefoot on burning embers.
The dancers, known as Nestinari, enter into a trance induced by a sacred drum which explains the participants’ lack of pain while dancing barefoot on the embers.
Sounds scary, right?
This tradition called Anastenaria or Nestinarstvo combines ancient pagan rituals with Eastern Orthodox principles.
The tradition of Nestinarstvo or Anastenaria combines Eastern Orthodox principles with more ancient pagan rituals.
6. Dirty in the Valley of Roses by Dawn
Do you believe that thousands of Japanese travel over 6000 miles each summer to visit Bulgaria and get dirty in the Valley of Roses?
Yes, it happens!
And the reason?
The Festival of Roses happens in the town of Kazanlak every May and June.
For over one month, everybody is expected to wake up before sunrise and partake in the traditional rose picking process.
Each flower is handpicked and used to produce some of the best rose oils for the cosmetic industry and used in most French perfumes.
There you have it! The most popular traditions in Bulgaria. If you’re planning to visit Bulgaria, take advantage of these dates and witness these colorful and fascinating events.
For more fascinating stories about Bulgarian customs and traditions, visit Folklore BG and stay updated.