There’s a Bulgarian saying “One bird is not enough for spring to come” and that is why Bulgarians have many spring festivals and traditions, symbolically marking the transition between winter and summer. Many of them are a mixture of Christian and pagan ritual, and like Easter their dates are different every year.
Bulgarians have a peculiar pagan festival including furry monsters and a lot of noise called Kukeri. Kukeri are people (usually men) dressed up in animal skins, fur, horns, with heavy bells around their waists. They dance and performs short stories in order to chase the evil spirits away. Kukeri festivals are held on various dates around the country, mainly between January 1 and the beginning of the Easter Great Fast (mid-March).
March 1 is a colorful day as people in Bulgaria tie red and white threads called martenitsa around each other’s wrists or pin them on their coats. This pagan ritual is said to bring people health and good fortune for the year coming. The day itself is called Baba Marta (literally Grandma March) named after the folk character said to be responsible for the ever changing weather in March.
8 March is celebrated in Bulgaria as Day of Women and you will see almost every man walking on the street with a flower or two in his hands. This day was an important holiday during communist times and for that reason some women don’t consider it should be kept nowadays. One thing that is undisputed is that on March 8 all mothers should be honored.
St Theodore’s Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of the Easter Great Fast in Bulgaria (usually in March). All people named Theodore (or a derivative) have their name day and throw parties for their families and friends. Also known as “Horse Easter”, horse races (kushii) are organized all over the country. The horses are decorated with flowers or beads.
Another Orthodox moveable feast celebrated Sunday one week before Easter. This is the day when religious Bulgarians go to church and bring home a twig of willow – a symbol of the palm leaves used by the people in Jerusalem to greet Jesus one week before he died. Bulgarians decorate their homes with flowers and all people whose are named after flowers (Rose, Lily, etc) celebrate a name day.
Easter is a family holiday in Bulgaria. Every family should dye and decorate boiled eggs in bright colors and bake special cookies (kurabii) and cake (kozunak). Religious Bulgarians go to a special mass on Easter at midnight where it is officially announced “Hristos voskrese” (“Christ is resurrected”). These are the words that are used for greeting instead of “hello” when people meet on the street for the next few days (in the past, that used to be the greeting for the next 40 days). Lamb is served on Easter day when the 40 day Great Fast finishes.