Bulgaria is one of the few countries around the globe that have a tradition of walking on hot embers. This happens once a year in a village called Bulgari. On 3 June, after the sun goes down, a huge pile of embers is spread out in the main square of the village. Special dancers called nestinari walk barefoot on the smouldering coals, accompanied by a special folk melody and dancing a folk dance.
Bulgarians have a bizarre winter tradition of dressing up like monsters and being very noisy to make sure all the evil spirits are scared away. The monsters are called kukeri and you can watch their dances and special performances around the country from January 1 until mid-March (dates vary every year).
Icy water swimming
January 6 is usually a cold, frosty day but that doesn’t stop dozens of Bulgarians jumping into icy river water every year. The reason is the Orthodox Christian celebration of the day of St John the Baptist. As the tradition goes, the local priest throws a crucifix in the river and men race to get it out. The first to find it will be lucky and healthy all year long, they say.
Every summer a very special event takes place in Zheravna village – a folk festival where only original traditional clothes are allowed and all modern electronic devices are forbidden. The Zheravna Festival is meant to remind people of their roots and to show a cultural landscape that it is impossible to ever come back to.
Gela Bagpipe Festival
The biggest and most popular bagpipe music contest in Bulgaria takes place in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains every summer. A stage is built on the hills above Gela village and musicians from all over the country perform in front of up to 25,000 people. The festival lasts for a weekend and turns into a huge open-air party at night.
Enyovden is celebrated on June 24 and it’s dedicated to St John. The night before June 24, according to local legends, is the time when witches and magicians go out to gather herbs for their spells. It is believed that all medicinal herbs have 10 times more healing power than usually and young women are supposed to collect 77 herb species before sunrise in order to keep their families and houses healthy and wealthy during the year.
February 14 may be a day of love around the world but in Bulgaria it is known as Trifon Zarezan or the day of the winemakers. As St Trifon is said to protect everyone who takes part in the wine production, on this day Bulgarians pay homage to him by taking care of their vineyards and drinking a lot of wine.
Baba Marta on March 1 is the day when spring starts to overcome and the winter starts losing its power. Bulgarians celebrate it by tying red and white threads around their wrists or pinning them to their coats. This Martenitsa should remain on your hand until you see a stork – a tell-tale sign spring is here.