The official religion in Bulgaria is Orthodox Christianity, which is used by more than 90% of Bulgarians. We are a strong national and conservative state. The most conservative is expressed in the ancient pagan traditions that have survived to our day. They are all memories of the ancient times when the first European agricultural culture and its religion related to the great goddess originated in our lands. The traditions that are today tied to the Christian calendar are, inherently, entirely devoted to nature and its relationship to humans. The main place here is the change of seasons.
At Christmas we celebrate not so much the birth of Christ, but the birth of the new sun. Shortly afterwards, the old customs related to the birth of the new life are coming. All customs in this period are related to the desire for fertility and rich harvest. Such are the famous kukeri – masquerading as scary creatures, using their bells, create a loud noise to awaken the mother earth from her long sleep. Survakari have a similar role. Again young men who walk around the houses sing songs and ask for fertility. Survacars must wear a stick of wood that is decorated with white and red wool (the colors of the Goddess), dried fruit and small money. With these sticks called sourvakki, they hit the backs of people by saying the words “Surva, Surva, Merry Year, be full of pens, heavy classes with wheat, and so on.
Again in the winter there are a number of holidays connected with the water. They are celebrated around Epiphany, and there is an obligatory presence in the cold waters of a river, lake or sea. The Christian feast of Epiphany is very close to this custom, but with us he again brings the memory of the ancient rituals that the people of these lands were doing at this time of the year. The most important thing about them is the ritual washing in the icy waters to reborn people clean for the new life in the spring and summer.
On March 1st, all Bulgarians observe an ancient tradition, for which there is no argument that it is pagan. This is martenitsa. Martenitza is a woven white and red thread. As we have already told you, these are the colors of the Goddess, which show its two essences – the white that is connected with heaven and the spiritual and the red that is bound to the earth and the birth. Nowadays, this custom is extremely respectful, but unfortunately most people do not even suggest where it comes from. However, the idea of the custom, which is again connected with the natural cycles, is preserved, in this case we congratulate the coming of the spring. Martenitsos are usually worn around the wrist and removed when the first stork arrives or the astronomical spring arrives.
In the middle of the summer we also have several customs that we have inherited from our ancestors. They are related to the dying of summer and the birth of winter. One custom is fire-dancing. Hundreds are theories about the roots of this ancient ritual. Nestinars are called people dancing on the embers. In fact, this is not a dance, but rather a jolt. This pagan custom is preserved in only a few villages in southeastern Bulgaria and northern Greece. The people who practice it live in a strictly closed community and do not issue their secrets. For them, it is more a spiritual experience than a physical experience, and it can only be inherited from mother to daughter. It happens that there are men of fire-dancing, but the clan leaders are necessarily women. The date on which the fire-dancers play their dances is 21.05.
The other summer fest is Saint John’s Eve. It is the summer solstice and is connected with some of the most magical beliefs of the Bulgarians. It is believed that during this longest night of the year, herbs have the most healing power. This is the feast of young unmarried girls. Bosses and in complete silence they gather herbs before sunrise and finally bathe with dew from the ground to be healthy. It is believed that the sunrise is magical that the sun is trembling in a specific way, that the dew is magical, and the water in the first minutes after sunrise. Also interesting is the belief that only in this longest night the buried treasures of the earth shine with a blue flame.