According to the Orthodox Christian tradition, on January 6 the priest throws a metal cross in the ice cold waters of the local river, while the bravest men try to fetch it first, bare chested and seemingly unaffected by the freezing temperatures. In one particular town, the ritual goes even further with men performing a traditional dance (horo) in the cold water. If you are in Bulgaria on that date, head for Kalofer and be there early in the morning to find a decent viewing point. If you dare to join the dance, remember that it is men only and that the first dance is for locals only.
You might be surprised to know that thousands of Japanese travel more than 6000 miles (10,000 km) every summer to come to Bulgaria and get their hands scratched and muddy in the Valley of Roses. The reason, the Festival of Roses that takes place in the town of Kazanlak every May and June. For more than a month, everybody is invited to wake up before sunrise and to take part in the traditional rose picking process. Everything is done in the good old fashioned way . Each flower is hand picked and used to produce one of the best rose oils known to the cosmetic industry, used in most French perfumes.
Bulgarian hikers are so fascinated by their favorite mountain routes and peaks, that they organize summer music festivals high up there. One of the most popular summer mountain festivals is the Blueberry Festival, held at 5000 feet (1500 m) in the Stara Planina mountain, near Ambaritsa mountain chalet. There is no vehicular access which means that everyone who wants to attend the event has to carry their food, tent, and gear for 4-6 hours up the extremely steep and sweat producing path. The fact that thousands of people do this every summer should make it seem worthwhile.
Here’s a semi hippie tradition that will immerse you in the way Bulgarians see life. It is called July Morning and it is celebrated only in Bulgaria. According to various sources, it dates back to the ‘60’s when the hippie movement in the country was growing. The rules are simple. On June 30 head for the Black Sea coast (preferably hitchhiking), pitch a tent on the sand, play the guitar, sing and drink with friends by the fire. When the sun is about to rise in the morning, play the Uriah Heep song “July Morning” and celebrate the summer, freedom, and friendship. Simple as that. Enjoy!
If you happen to arrive in Bulgaria on March 1 you will notice thousands of street vendors sell red and white threads in all shapes and varieties, and that everyone has tens of these tied around their wrists or pinned on their jackets. This is martenitsa, the magical thread supposed to provide a healthy and prosperous year to its owner. The holiday is called Baba Marta (Grandma March) and is a celebration of the coming of spring. Bulgarian children are taught that Grandma March is the one who brings the spring together with their martenitsa.