Leisure time

Cultural events

Bulgarian traditions inherited, passed through different historical eras, suffered critical twists managed to preserve to this day in almost pure form and it is extremely important for the Bulgarian people. They are a symbol of Bulgarian roots, of Bulgarian life and the Bulgarian spirit. Affection and esteem of Bulgarians to present these traditions is reflected in the rich cultural calendar, which abounds in national and international festivals, fairs and cultural events.

Rozhen – the Festival of Folklore and Livestock Breeding [1] has a long tradition. It was first held in 1898 and then became the biggest stage of the Bulgarian folklore. Many Bulgarian artists promote their talent precisely on this festival – George Chilingirov, Boyka Prisadova, Nadezhda Hvoineva, Christina Lyutova, Rumen Rodopski, Veselin Dzhigov, Mladen Koynarov. Rozhen gave birth to the song “Izlel Delio hajdutin” performed by Valya Balkanska, which along with the music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart sounds in space today in search of new civilizations [2]. The fair is held every year during the summer month of August and lasts two days. Rozhen festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

Rozhen festival photo, source

National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore “Koprivshtitsa” stems from 1965, when more than 4,000 folk singers, dancers and musicians took part in it. Since then, authentic Bulgarian folk songs sound around Koprivshtitsa every five years. Traditionally, it is held in the county “Voyvodenets”, which became a platform for singers, musicians, dancers, dance and singing groups from across the country.

“Zornitsa” ensemble at Koprivshtitsa festival, source

On the first day of the year, interspersed with mummers games, up to Mitrovden until late fall, Bansko celebrates old and new holidays.[3] Holidays in Bansko are proclaimed by a solemn bell ringing. Traditionally, from 17 to 24 May, Bansko holiday tradition stands. During this week visitors can visit the ethnographic and culinary exhibitions, exhibitions of fine and applied art, themed evenings devoted to Bansko humor, songs, people, customs. Especially popular is the furniture exhibition “Made in Bansko,” which represents the traditions and current trends in production and woodcarving. Bansko is the town where one of the most popular music festivals in Bulgaria is held – Jazz Fest. Since 1998, at the beginning of August, jazz musicians from around the world have been expressing themselves through the language of music at its stage.

An image from Bansko, source

Very popular and famous is the Festival of folk traditions and crafts organized in Razgrad. Along with there is a Fair of Bulgarian yogurt. Traditionally the holiday is celebrated in the month of July. Hundreds of artists participate in the exhibitions. Crafts festival goes along with dozens of folk groups visiting Razgrad at this time of year. Within the framework of the Milk Fair, various culinary competitions, presentations and tastings are organized.

International Folklore Festival “Radnevo” is a celebration of art and friendship. The first edition of the festival dates back to 1998. Annually, in the beginning of September, local and international artists come – from Serbia, Macedonia, Russia, France,  Germany, Israel, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and many, many others. The festival in Radnevo has the form of a competition.

Bulgaria is famous also for its annual International Festival of Masquerade Games and mummers “Kukove-Rakovski”.

Mummers Rakovski, source

According to its status this festival is realized Friday and Saturday before the “Easter Lent” according to the Catholic calendar – the last big celebration of winter. Traditionally organizers of the festival are Rakovski Municipality and “St. Cyril and Methodius” cultural club Rakovski.

One of the catholic cathedrals in the municipality of Rakovski, source

Participants come from different regions of the country and the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Slovenia, Northern Ireland. Every year Rakovski welcomes over 2000 participants. The ringing of bells and chimes, wild dancing, lavish costumes, scary masks gather each year thousands of spectators from the country and abroad to witness the unique feeling the magic of this old Bulgarian custom.

International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva” is a celebration of traditional folk games and custom masks. From 1966 till today it is organized every year by the Municipality of Pernik. Traditionally, the festival was held in January. Then the city is bathed in the colors of the revelers survakari and mummers. This custom is entirely tied to pagan beliefs in the Bulgarian lands. During the festival a competition program is organized, involving tens of thousands of mummers and masquerade.

Apart from the traditions, the cultural life in Bulgaria is influenced also from by the global trends. Cultural events take new, up-to-date forms. For example, from 2008 until today, the One Dance Week festival is dedicated to contemporary dance art. Another extremely popular international event is Sofia Architecture Week – a festival for contemporary architecture and urban environment.

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular Bulgarian cultural events around the world is the “Apollonia Arts Festival”, Sozopol. Every year at the end of the summer season, artists present their works from all kinds of arts. Within a week, the city hosts musicians, actors, directors, producers, artists, poets, and writers.

Lovers of theatre can find a lot to enjoy in Bulgaria. The fans have the opportunity to visit the Varna Summer International Festival, the International Film Festival “Love is Madness”, the film festivals “Cinomania”, Sofia Film Fest. The Bulgarian theaters enrich the cultural life of the Bulgarians with a big repertoire and regular premieres. The most popular Bulgarian theaters are the National Theater “Ivan Vazov” (Sofia), Theater “Tears and Laughter” (Sofia), Youth Theater “Nikolay Binev” (Sofia), ,,Theater “Bulgarian Army” (Sofia), Drama Theater – Plovdiv, Drama Theater “Stoyan Bachvarov” (Varna), Balgaran Theater (Varna) and many others.

Bulgarian galleries and museums organize regular exhibitions and expositions. In them the visitors can enjoy the Bulgarian and world past and present. Richest collections are stored in the National Art Gallery, the National Gallery for Foreign Art, the National Archaeological Institute and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, National History Museum, National Museum of Military History and regional museums and galleries scattered around the country.

Customs and holidays

Bulgarian holiday calendar captures Bulgarian folk traditions, pagan beliefs and Christian religious concepts. The most important holidays for Bulgarians almost entirely adhere to Orthodox church calendar.

Ancient Bulgarian ritual is Nestinarstvo[4] – dancing in which dancers play barefoot on coals. Traditionally they play this on the day of St. Constantine and Helena (May 21). It is believed that the fire protects people from evil demonic forces. Entering it, stepping on coals purifies the soul. During the night of 21 to 22 May the fire is ignited and then the embers are spread around. Around the fire people arrange and bring icons, the first of which is the icon of St. Constantine and Elena. In glowing embers bare fire dancers come who dance in a trance. According to folk beliefs, the icon of the saints is that which protects them from fire. After the games all together sit at the table.

A nestinar holding the icon of St. Konstantin and St. Helen, source

Important holiday of the Bulgarian folk calendar is Sunday Siropustna, also known as Maslenitsa (Butter week or Pancake week) and Forgiveness. It is celebrated seven weeks before Easter. According to popular belief on this day heaven and earth forgive each other. On this day people take forgiveness from family, friends and acquaintances for trespasses against them last year. Typical for this day are mummer masquerade parades, on which pagan rituals are performed. On Sunday Siropustna children, youth and adults wear old clothes and made specifically for the holiday mummers costumes, blacken their faces and hide them with masks and go around the streets and houses. The purpose of this “cover” is for people to not be recognized by evil spirits. This ritual is called Kukeruvane[5].

Jumping over fires for good health and prosperity – Maslenitsa, source

Another interesting ritual is laduvane. It is implemented on several different holidays, such as St. George’s day, Enyo’s day, Lazar’s day, New Year. The ritual is carried out by girls only. They worship the goddess of love – Lada – and try to guess whom they are going to marry.

Laduvane, source

Jordan’s day or Epiphany is the day the Christian world celebrates the baptism of the Son of God in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. It is generally believed that he who wants to be healthy throughout the year has to bathe in the river.

A horo in the ice-cold river waters on St. Jordan’s day, source

After a festive celebration of Epiphany, the priest throws a cross into the water and the lads jump to catch it. It is believed that those who took the cross will be healthy throughout the year. Another ritual observed during the Epiphany is baking three ritual breads – one for home, the second for the guests, and third placed in front of the house for the people passing by.

The cross has been found, source

Undoubtedly the most celebrated holidays from the Bulgarians are Easter and Christmas. They are a symbol of the strong Bulgarian family, which together celebrates the birth and resurrection of the son of God, Jesus Christ.

 

A programme with all cultural events taking place in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna and Stara Zagora can be accessed from this web-site.

 

[1] Folklore festival “Rozhen”. [online]

[2] Festivals of Bulgarian folklore. In: Ministry Of Culture – Republic of Bulgaria [online]

[3] Holidays, Traditions and Customs in Bansko. In: Information about Bansko [online]

[4] Nestinari from the village of Bulgari 3 June 2017 (online). A video about nestinarstvo in EN (online)

[5] Information with a video for visualizations of Kukeruvane, source: “Integration of immigrants” project (online)

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