Celebrations in Bulgaria are strongly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox religious calendar, as well an opportunity to practice musical, culinary, ritual or costumed traditions which have been preserved from pagan times. The seasons also play a part, with many regions having special folk festivals that embrace aspects of agricultural harvest cycles.
New Year in Bulgaria provides an opportunity for visitors to witness the preserved Pagan tradition of Kukeri, particularly in the area around Radzalog. On January 1, residents are woken up very early by bells sounded by dancing men dressed in frightening costumes made of goat hair and wooden ram masks, often with a good and evil face. Groups of these costumed bachelors, led by a married man, visit all the homes on the street wishing good health and good harvest in return for small gifts such as beans or eggs. Everyone eventually congregates in the town square to celebrate with music, dancing and food.
Apollonia Arts Festival
The 10-day Apollonia Arts Festival has been held at the end of summer in the seaside town of Sozopol since 1984. The event celebrates the Greek god of music and dance with a number of performances taking place in a variety of venues including the art gallery, Archeological Museum and the Apollonia Amphitheater. There are exhibitions, activities for children, concerts, master classes, and film premieres.
The Easter Holy week is one of the biggest events in the Bulgarian religious year. The festival of Velikden, as it is known, falls in late February or early April and begins with Palm Sunday and leads up to the Great Day the following Sunday. Traditions are shaped by the Eastern Orthodox Church and include baking Easter breads and coloring bright red eggs. The fasting of Lent leads to midnight mass on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. The culmination is a day of feasting, celebrations, egg cracking and gift giving. Friends and relatives throw their red eggs at each other and the last person left with an unbroken egg is said to have good luck for the year.
Independence Day is marked with a public holiday on September 22 to commemorate the creation of modern-day Bulgaria in 1908. The event is celebrated through military and civilian parades, special church services, flag raising ceremonies, laying of wreaths at war memorials, music, dancing and parties.
St Constantine and Elena Day
The holiday of St Constantine and Elena falls on May 21 when many small villages on the Strandja Mountain in southern Bulgaria hold festivals featuring fire-walking to guard against hail. Barefoot fire dancers mark the arrival of summer by walking across hot coals in a trance, in standard Thracian tradition from pagan times. The eve of May 20 sees processions, music, dancing and visits by the devoted to the local shrine of the saints bearing votive offerings.
International Jazz Festival
Established in 1998, the International Jazz Festival takes place over five days the second week of August in the popular winter resort of Bansko. The event attracts leading performers and features free daytime concerts at restaurants, small stages set around the charming old town, and at the large resorts. In the evening, the actions centers around the stage in Nikola Vaptsarov Square open for outdoor performances that attract large crowds.
Bourgas International Folk Festival
The end of August sees national and international folk performers and dance troupes descend on the town of Bourgas for the Bourgas International Folk Fest. The festival was created in 1965 and features traditional Bulgarian food and handicraft bazaars, open-air concerts, shows, folk recitals, parades, choirs, orchestras, and bands. The Summer Theater of Bourgas’ hosts a number of performances throughout the event.
Bulgarian Christmas celebrations follow the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Groups singing Christmas carols are common, particularly in smaller towns and villages. Many people will fast or give up a vice for the forty days leading up to Christmas Eve on December 24, when families will share a vegan meal and, in some areas, hide a coin in a pita, with the one finding it having good luck for the following year. December 25, Christmas Day, is a great feast, with meat and dairy being served to break the fast. Christmas trees and gift giving are also common practice in Bulgaria.