Bulgaria is a very old country with a history dating back 1335 years ago. Due to its geographical location through its existence, Bulgaria has been under numerous influences from East and West. This resulted in a unique combination of customs and authentic traditions, some of which being still practiced today. Naturally, like most of the Europeans Bulgarians do celebrate Easter and Christmas as the two of their most important holidays. Yet, they have many other celebrations – some weird, some cute but all lovely to know about. Check out which are the strangest rituals and traditions that you can still find in Bulgaria.
1. Diving to get the cross in the freezing sea/river water on St. Yordan’s Day.
On Epiphany, or as many know it as St. Yordan’s Day, on 6th January each year, Bulgarians celebrate the Baptism of Jesus Christ. On that day local priests throw a cross into the waters of the nearest river, lake or sea. Young men jump to catch it in a competition and whoever catches that cross and brings it up, it is believed that this person will be healthy and happy throughout the year.
On the same day in certain parts of the country, especially in the town of Kalofer, but also in several other settlements, you can see the famous icy ring dance during which men dance in the freezing river water under the traditional Bulgarian folk music.
2. Kukeri Festival or chasing the evil spirits
Before Lent in late January or early February, Bulgarians organize a lively carnival during which Kukeri present their special scary costumes and dance. With the old ritual dance, Kukeri believed to drive the evil spirits away and make a procession around the central part of the village or town. Besides creepy masks, Kukeri wear thick costumes made of animal pelts and enormous bells on their belts. Great places to be during this festival include the town of Pernik and the town of Blagoevgrad.
3. Trifon Zarezan or the celebration of wine
When the whole world is celebrating Valentine’s Day on 14th February, Bulgarians celebrate the wine or the local festival Trifon Zarezan, also known as the day of the vine growers. On that day the vines are cut in order to get enough power to grow a to give rich harvest. Trifon Zarezan is a festival of fertility, a celebration of the magical quality of the Bulgarian wine.
4. Baba Marta and the tradition to welcome spring wearing red and white Martenitsa
On 1st of March every year Bulgarians congratulate themselves with the saying “Happy Baba Marta” and give their friends and relatives special yearn adornment in red and white called Martenitsa. Baba Marta is an old grandma from the Bulgarian folklore who is believed to bring health and spring. Martenitsa symbols are supposed to be tied on a blossoming tree or to be placed under a rock, once the person sees a stork or other symbols of spring.
5. Nestinari or the sacred and barefoot dance on fire
Witnessing the Nestinari dance is among the finest things that one can see while in Bulgaria. This dance is practiced in several isolated villages in Strandja Mountain, yet the mystical ritual is also practiced in front of tourists along the resorts of the Black Sea coast. It is believed that the nestinari tradition combines ancient pagan rituals with Eastern Orthodox principles.
According to the tradition, the Nestinari Dance is to be performed on the night of Saints Constantine and Helen’s Day on a square where a fire is lit. Once there are burning embers the dancers who are usually women, enter barefoot the embers holding icons in their hands. They fall into a state of trance due to a sacred drum and they do not feel any pain while dancing and after that.