Bulgarian people have preserved some remarkable old customs and traditions. Nowadays some of them are still widely spread throughout the whole country, while others are practiced only in some villages or regions. Here are the most famous and interesting ones:
This custom is celebrated on the 1st of January. Its origin is hard to define- some historians for example relate it to the ancient Bulgarians, while others- to the pagan times of Rome. The ritual “survakane” is done by children of age between 5 and 12. Each children has his/ her own raw branch of cornel- tree, decorated with different things like colorful cottons, popcorns, walnuts. With their branches they touch/hit the backs of their relatives while at the same time citing different rhymes for health. After that, they receive small presents. This is one of the most widespread traditions in Bulgaria and is it practiced in most of the families.
On the 6th of January in the revival town of Koprivshtitsa is practiced the so called “ice horo” (horo is the name of a traditional Bulgarian dance). It is done only by men, who dressed in a national clothing, enter the water of the ice river and do the dance under the music of bag- pipes and drums. This custom is supposed to have emerged during the Ottoman rule, when the local men wanted to demonstrate the strength of their spirit. Another tradition that is practiced on this date in other towns or villages with rivers is when the local priest throws a cross in the river and men compete to take it out.
There are several hypotheses about the origin of this custom. According to the most popular one- it was practiced by the Thracians (the Thracian word “kukeri” means “tall, masked men”) and later it was adopted by the Bulgarians. In the different regions of Bulgaria, it is celebrated on different days, but overall it is a winter tradition. It is allowed only to unmarried men to do it- they dress in a specific scary costumes and dance bizarre dances with the goal to chase away the evil spirits. It is believed that the noisier they are, the stronger they will chase away the evil. Nowadays this tradition is more typical for the small Bulgarian villages.
This is the most popular and widespread Bulgarian tradition. The legend of the “Martenitsa” goes back to the foundation of the Bulgarian state in 681. A pigeon- messenger with a white thread was sent by one of the old King`s sons-Asparuh- to his brother- Bayan- with the goal to indicate that new land was found. At the time Bayan received the message, he was chased by rival Hazard tribes. He was hit by an arrow and his blood painted the thread in red. Bayan sent back the pigeon and Asparuh managed to come with his troops and to save him. Then he ordered for more red and white threads to be made and placed them on his soldiers. This happened on the 1st of March. Since then, each year on the 1st of March Bulgarians give each other such “Martenitsa” with wishes for health and luck. “Martenitsa” is worn until the beginning of the spring, when it is taken off and placed on the newly blossomed trees.
This is one of the most ancient Bulgarian customs, that nowadays is preserved only in a few villages in the “Strandzha” Mountain. Historians relate it to the old Thracian traditions and their cult of the Sun.
The dance itself is passed from generation to generation only in certain families. It is interesting that the “nestinari” dancers do not receive any wounds when going into the embers, so scientists say that it may be due to their genetics. The people themselves claim that it is because of their strong faith and good morals. They believe that you can not learn to be a “nestinar” unless you are born such. The peak of the “nestinar” dances is on the holiday of Saint Constantine and Saint Elena. The dancers go into the circled embers in a condition of trance and they move in it with small steps, in the form of a cross. In 2009 the “nestinari” dance was included in UNESCO`s list of immaterial cultural heritage.
The tradition of “Koledari” is related to Christmas and to blessings for the upcoming year. “Koledari” are young men (no women are allowed) who gather in groups of 10- 15 people. Each of them wears a traditional costume and carries a typical crook. They go around the houses to sing songs for fertility, health and happiness and after that they receive small presents from the hosts. This ritual is done in the evening of the 24th or in the day of the 25th of December. Nowadays this custom is well preserved and more typical for the small Bulgarian villages.
By Vasil Nachkov